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Three-quarters of Republicans prioritize the economy over climate change

It's hot. And some apparently like it that way.

The latest heat wave is fueled by human-caused climate change from burning fossil fuels, but despite the settled science, the overwhelming evidence and the billions of dollars in increases for disaster preparation and recovery that climate change is costing the country, Republicans have grown more skeptical of the need to prioritize fixing it, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The wide-ranging survey of 1,285 adults also found some of the most critical institutions in the country being held in low regard and that President Biden has some glaring vulnerabilities, especially when it comes to the economy, heading into the 2024 presidential election.

Republicans turning away from climate crisis

Overall, a majority of respondents – 53% – said addressing climate change should be given priority even at the risk of slowing the economy. That included 80% of Democrats and 54% of independents.

But almost three-quarters of Republicans (72%) said the economy should be given priority, even at the risk of ignoring climate change. That is up 13 points since 2018 – despite the increases in climate-change-related weather disasters.


A solid majority (56%) overall called climate change a major threat, including almost 9 in 10 Democrats and a slim majority of independents. But 70% of Republicans said it's either just a minor threat or no threat at all.

A similar majority (55%) said climate change is having a serious impact now and an even larger majority (62%) said it is having a great deal or at least some effect on their communities. But in each case that included majorities of Democrats and independents with Republicans feeling the opposite way.

In fact, a plurality of Republicans – 43% – said climate change won't have a serious impact on their communities at all. Another third said it will only have a minor one.

These disparities show why such little action has taken place – or even will in the short-term – in Congress to address climate change.

Former President Donald Trump, the current front runner for the GOP nomination once again, has talked down the impact of climate change for years now. The 2022 National Ocean Service Technical Report – a joint effort between several government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, Homeland Security, FEMA and the Defense Department – found that sea levels are expected to rise up to a foot in the next 30 years with more flood damage, seen in more inland areas and, by 2050, happen up to 10 times more often than it does even today.

The country will likely see an additional 2 feet of rise by the end of this century and the report points squarely at emissions.

"Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5 - 5 feet (0.5 - 1.5 meters) of rise for a total of 3.5 - 7 feet (1.1 - 2.1 meters) by the end of this century," it noted.

And yet despite all the evidence, Trump has lied and called climate change a "hoax" and implied that it would only "may affect us in 300 years" and only see a sea level rise of 1/8 inch.

Little could be further from the scientific consensus.

The survey did find that younger Americans, however, are the most likely of any age bracket to say climate change is affecting their community (72%), represent a major threat (64%) and should take priority over the economy (59%).

So there could be changes to policy, but it's looking much farther down the road.

Confidence in institutions is down across the board

Once-revered institutions in American life are seeing low confidence among the general public, according to the survey.


The FBI is the highest rated of the ones Marist tested in this poll, but respondents were split with 51% saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it and 47% saying they don't have very much or none at all.

There was a partisan split with 65% of Republicans – and even 56% of independents – who had little to no confidence in the agency. For years now, Trump has talked down the once-vaunted law enforcement agency, accusing it – with little basis – of "witch hunts" and a "Deep State" conspiracy.

The Supreme Court continues to struggle after the Dobbs decision last year – 58% have little to no confidence in the high court. That includes three-quarters of Democrats and 6 in 10 independents.

A solid majority said they believe the court's decisions in the last couple of years are moving the country in the wrong direction.

The political parties, Congress and the media are all facing crises of confidence.

  • Just 37% had at least some confidence in the Democratic Party, only 32% said so of the Republican Party, and 22% had any confidence in Congress.
  • Just 29% had at least some confidence in the media, including 54% of Democrats, only 1 in 5 independents and about 1 in 10 Republicans. In fact, 57% of Republicans had no confidence at all in the media.
  • Only 8% said they had a "great deal" of confidence in the media, the lowest in at least five years.

Biden's vulnerabilities are glaring

President Biden continues to struggle with a mediocre approval rating of 41%, including just 34% with independents.

He does appear to be holding steady with the Democratic base, however, as 83% approve of the job he's doing.

Respondents are looking at the president's actions on the economy and foreign policy skeptically. Almost 6 in 10 (57%) say his policies have weakened the economy. The 40% who say his policies have strengthened is actually up 6 points since September of 2022.

The White House recognizes the vulnerability on the economy. It has tried to grab hold of the narrative, touting what they are calling "Bidenomics," which focuses on more positive aspects, like low unemployment and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

He doesn't fair much better on foreign policy – 56% think his policies have weakened the country on foreign policy. His scores on the economy, on average, are worse than Trump's, but foreign policy is marginally better than his predecessor's and potential future opponent.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.