Polls show more Americans are concerned about climate change than they used to be. That much is evident in surveys done by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University. For instance, in March of 2015, 63 percent of Americans believed climate change was happening and 52 percent reported being worried about it. By December of 2018, belief had jumped to 73 percent — and 69 percent were worried.

Erik Johnson.

In that shift, Erik Johnson sees the hand of politics. Johnson is a professor of sociology at Washington State University, where he studies environmental movements. A few years ago, he got interested in the question of whether support for environmental policy might go up as Gen Xers and millennials began to take over from older generations. Basically: When old people die, is it good for environmental policy support?

But that turned out to be the wrong question entirely. “As we got into it, we started to figure out that age cohorts don’t matter,” Johnson told me. Instead, the stats said that shifts in support for environmental spending — whether people believed it should go up or down — were more strongly correlated with things like politics and economics.

Last month, Johnson published research that tracked American support for environmental spending over time. Since 1973, public support for increased environmental spending has tended to grow during Republican administrations and decline during Democratic ones. Which means Americans are more likely to want the government to take more environmental action when the person in the White House is less likely to have environmentalism as a core focus of his policy.

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