By BRANDI BUCHMAN
(CN) - America's debate over climate change goes far beyond the question of human influence and degree, and extends to disagreements over the validity of climate science and whether scientists working in it can be trusted, a new Pew Research Center study reveals.
The Pew Research Center conducted its survey on the politics of climate change in May and early June, just as the presidential primaries were ending, and about a month before Republicans and Democrats gathered for their respective presidential nominating conventions.
The results of that effort found that 36 percent of Americans described themselves as deeply concerned about global climate change, and that those who described their sentiments that way tended to be either Democrats or independents who lean toward the Democratic Party.
The partisan divide was most evident, however, when the survey turned to climate science and those who work in the field.
Seven-in-ten liberal Democrats said they trust climate scientists to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15 percent of conservative Republicans.
Some 54 percent of liberal Democrats say climate scientists understand the causes of climate change very well. This compares with only 11 percent among conservative Republicans and 19 percent among moderate/liberal Republicans.
Liberal Democrats, more than any other party/ideology group, perceive widespread consensus among climate scientists about the causes of warming. But only 16 percent of conservative Republicans say almost all scientists agree on this, compared with 55 percent of liberal Democrats.
Democrats, not surprisingly given the previous statistics, place more faith in the work of climate scientists and their understanding of the phenomenon.
Fifty-five percent of Democrats said climate research reflects the best available evidence most of the time (compared to nine percent of Republicans), and 68 percent said climate scientists understand very well whether or not climate change is occurring.
Even the Republicans who believe the Earth is warming are much less likely than Democrats to expect severe harms to the Earth’s ecosystem, the study found.
On the flip side, conservative Republicans who participated in the survey were more inclined to say climate research findings are influenced by scientists’ desire to advance their careers (57 percent) or their own political leanings (54 percent) most of the time.
Small minorities of liberal Democrats say either influence occurs most of the time (16 percent and 11 percent, respectively).
But the wrinkle in the findings was that regardless of party affiliation, only 20 percent of those who accepted the current climate science said their concern over climate change inspired them to become people who "live in a way that protects the environment all the time."
People who more frequently engage in environmentally protective activities however, like attending park clean up or driving a hybrid vehicle, more consistently match that of the U.S. population overall, the Pew researchers found.
What this shows, said Janet Swim, a psychology professor at Penn State University, is that "most people support caring for the environment and perceive themselves in a positive light," but there isn't total clarity over "what is meant by 'everyday environmentalist."