Politics & Government

Poll: Climate change denial drops in SC, but residents more polarized over the cause

Erosion left some beach homes in Nags Head, seen in this 2011 photo, perilously close to the Atlantic Ocean. A national advocacy group gives North Carolina a “D” grade for its protection of the coast and beaches.
Erosion left some beach homes in Nags Head, seen in this 2011 photo, perilously close to the Atlantic Ocean. A national advocacy group gives North Carolina a “D” grade for its protection of the coast and beaches. JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charl

A majority of South Carolinians think state leaders should take action on climate change, but Palmetto State residents remain divided over the cause of the planet’s warming.

Climate change denial also is on the decline in the Palmetto State, according to a poll by Winthrop University that was shared exclusively with The State.

Seventy-nine percent of S.C. residents say the state needs to do more to combat the effects of climate change, such as flooding caused by rising sea levels, the poll found.

But while 29 percent of those surveyed blame humans for climate change, 22 percent blame a “natural process” instead.

“With all the extreme weather events, and with so many in a row, I think people are starting to see how it will effect them even if politics won’t allow them to ascribe that change to human activity,” said pollster Scott Huffmon.

Climate change hits home in South Carolina, where a powerful rainstorm in 2015 caused serious flooding in the Midlands and hurricanes in 2016 and 2018 flooded the state’s coastal and Pee Dee regions.

Compared to past polls, the latest results show a decline in climate change deniers. In February 2017, 21 percent of South Carolinians told Winthrop pollsters they didn’t believe in climate change. That included 39 percent of Republicans surveyed.

But this time around, just 6 percent said they think climate change isn’t happening. That included 10 percent of Republicans surveyed and 4 percent of Democrats.

Regardless, South Carolinians from both parties want the state to take action on climate change. But some partisan differences remain.

Ninety-two percent of Democrats — but just 66 percent of Republicans — want action. Just 5 percent of Democrats — and 28 percent of Republicans — say the state should do nothing.

Just 16 percent of those surveyed said the state should not take steps to combat a warming planet.

“Two-thirds of Republicans say ‘yes,’ because they believe government should protect private property and private interests,” Huffmon said. “I think a lot of conservatives would love to move on from ‘why’ and just focus on solutions, because property and markets are imperiled.”

South Carolinians also are split on the cause of climate change.

Twenty-nine percent blame humans for the planet’s warming, including 46 percent of Democrats. But 22 percent blame a “natural process,” including 35 percent of Republicans.

But a plurality of those surveyed — 39 percent — believe climate change stems from an “equal combination” of human activity and nature. That includes 43 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats.

Those numbers have shifted in a more skeptical direction since last October, when Winthrop found that 48 percent of South Carolinians assigned blame for climate change equally to humans and nature, and only 3 percent said it wasn’t happening at all.

Huffmon attributed that change to a “Trump effect,” referring to the divisive U.S. president. “As it becomes more prominent, people are doubling down on belief,” he said.

The latest poll questioned 1,007 S.C. residents between late February and early March. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

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Bristow Marchant covers politics and government for The State, with more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.


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