Preparing for Environmental Change in Indiana: The Hoosier Life Survey
Environmental changes such as extreme weather events, rising temperatures, floods, or droughts affect people across the globe. But whatever their source and however great their extent, these conditions also touch us at local levels—around the house, across our community, on the farm, and throughout the state where we live. The global challenge of environmental change is an Indiana challenge, too.
What is the Hoosier Life Survey?
The Hoosier Life Survey (HLS) is the nation’s most comprehensive statewide public-opinion survey of environmental change to date. The HLS addresses how environmental changes—particularly extreme weather events—are perceived, how they affect people in their homes and towns, what Hoosiers are doing about it, and what they expect for the future. This research, sponsored by Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI), was funded by IU’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative.
Between August and December 2019, ERI reached out to 10,000 adult (18+) Hoosiers across Indiana—from Chicago’s suburbs to Cincinnati’s metropolitan fringe, from the Grand Chain of the Wabash to the shore of northern Indiana’s historic Limberlost Swamp. In total, 2,739 Hoosiers—representing 90 of the state’s 92 counties—responded. Thanks to their participation, ERI can now offer scientists, public officials, and the general public new insight into how climate change affects Hoosiers in their everyday lives.
What does the HLS tell us?
We asked our Indiana neighbors more than 100 questions, organized in sections titled Who You Are, Where You Live, What You Value, What You’ve Heard, You and the Environment, and What You Do. Taken together, our respondents’ answers show us what Hoosiers think about environmental change—its origins, its extent, its impact on their families. The survey tells us, too, how Hoosiers learn about the issues vital to their future—whom they trust, to whom they listen, from whom they’d like to hear more. It highlights how much Indiana residents are already doing—or are prepared to do—to build resilience in the face of one of the grand challenges of our time. And it reveals the role of political and personal values—along with social, demographic, and economic differences—in dividing Indiana’s citizens in their approach to that challenge— as well as the fundamental things that we share despite such differences.
HLS’s in-depth, localized data enrich and focus the findings of other studies such as the Yale Climate Opinion Maps or the Pew Research Center’s US Public Views on Climate and Energy report. While these national surveys provide useful guidance to Americans seeking to understand and prepare for environmental change, the HLS—combined with ERI’s Hoosier Resilience Index, ERI Toolkit, and the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, coordinated by the Purdue Climate Change Research Center—provides a model for universities and states wishing to tailor their understanding of environmental change and resilience strategies to the particular geographies and political and social settings in which practical, local actions can be taken. For more information on the HLS findings, see the interactive HLS Opinion Map and HLS Summary Report.
Politics and Climate Change at the Crossroads
This report, the first in a series that will focus on particular HLS findings, highlights the role of political affiliation in Hoosiers’ perceptions of, and preparation for, environmental change. We begin with the presumption that while individual actions—from consumer and eating habits to household and transportation practices—are important elements of any preparation for climate change, such actions are not enough, on their own, to increase our resilience at the scale that may be demanded of us in coming years. An openly deliberated public policy—whether at the national, state, or local level—is the tool that Americans have always employed to motivate, enable, and, if necessary, compel action across a diverse population. Because public support is critical to the fairness and the efficacy of such policy, we consider a close understanding of that opinion to be key to this deliberation.
Indiana’s 2020 primary elections provide an opportune moment at which to take stock of the political dimension of Hoosiers’ support for climate change-related public policy, as well as to measure whether and how other key climate change-specific attitudes relate to political affiliation. Drawing on the statewide Hoosier Life Survey, this report focuses on correlations between political affiliation, Hoosiers’ views of climate-resilience policy and programs and Indiana residents’ beliefs and concerns about climate change.
Hoosiers who answered our survey spanned the political spectrum. The survey asked:
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Republican, Democrat, Independent, or something else?
Out of the response options,
- 32% identified as Republican
- 16% identified as Independent, lean Republican
- 17% identified as Independent (no lean)
- 13% identified as Independent, lean Democrat
- 22% identified as Democrats
The 176 respondents who identified as “something else” were excluded from this analysis. For a similar finding of the relative proportion of Hoosier political affiliations, see the party-identification breakdowns reported in the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study.
For the purposes of this report, respondents who identified as Republican or as Independents who lean Republican were grouped together as “Republican,” while the same was done for Democrats and for Independents who lean Democrat. In the pages that follow, we look at a few of the ways in which three major political affiliations—Republican, Independent, and Democrat—divide or connect Hoosiers in terms of their climate change views and support for related policy.
In general, we find that strong partisan disagreements continue to characterize Hoosiers’ perceptions, explanations, and plans for the climate-driven challenges that scientists tell us are already here. Personal differences (including categories such as gender, age, or community type) complicate, but do not override, these political differences. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that policies and public conversations focused on shared experiences and specific, feasible solutions may bring Indiana citizens together in ways that more abstract discussions do not.
AMONG OUR KEY FINDINGS:
A majority of Hoosiers (more than 50 percent), regardless of political affiliation, identify at least “somewhat” as an environmentalist.
Approximately 58 percent of Democrats believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change, while only 16 percent of Republicans believe the same. A greater share of Republicans (26 percent) believe that climate change is not happening at all.
The type of community in which a respondent lives—rural, small town, suburban or urban—appears to shape the relationship between politics and climate change beliefs. Only 6 percent of rural Republicans believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change, compared to 23 percent of suburban Republicans. Similarly, rural Democrats (49 percent) were less likely to attribute climate change primarily to human actions than were their suburban (66 percent) and urban (63 percent) counterparts.
Younger Democrats and Republicans are much likelier than their older counterparts to believe that humans are the primary drivers of climate change.
Female Democrats and Republicans are likelier than their male counterparts to believe that climate change is harming people in the United States right now.
Even Hoosiers’ perception of how their local weather has changed is shaped by their political affiliation, with Democrats and Independents more likely than Republicans to believe that extreme events such as heavy rains have occurred more frequently over time.
A majority (56 percent) of Republicans express skepticism about the potential of technologies to solve major issues such as environmental change. Based on past research, this attitude may, conversely, signal a willingness among Republicans to support climate-change responses that rely on less technologically intensive measures.
A majority of Hoosiers, regardless of political affiliation, generally support local policies and programs to address the risk of climate-related extreme weather events. Even policies and programs specific to reducing carbon dioxide emissions generally receive widespread support.
Regardless of party affiliation, Hoosiers widely support a hypothetical scenario for funding environmental resilience programs through a tax on corporations, assessed proportionately in relation to their contribution to elevated pollution levels.