Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Hillary Clinton responds to a question posed by participant Ken Bone on energy policy during Sunday night's second presidential debate. (Photo: screengrab/C-Span)

'Shameful': Another Presidential Debate Basically Ignores Climate Change

New analysis shows vastly divergent opinions held by supporters of Trump and Clinton on issue

Andrea Germanos

As environmental organizations denounce climate change's near total absence from the second presidential debate, a new analysis highlights the starkly differing attitudes backers of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hold on the issue.

Released by the Pew Research Center and based on surveys conducted May 10-June 6 and Aug. 16-Sept. 12, the breakdown of the views covers whether the supporters care about climate change, if they believe it is caused by human activity, whether specific policy actions—such as restrictions on power plant emissions—will help address climate change impacts, and whether they think climate scientists understand causes of climate change.

The contrasts, Pew states, "mirror a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans."

For example, while 56 percent of Clinton supporters care "a great deal" about climate change, only 15 percent of Trump supporters feel that way. None of the Democratic nominee's supporters said they care "not at all" about the issue, but 18 percent of the Republican nominee's supporters feel that way.

Looking at whether human activity is responsible for climate change shows another deep divide. Seventy percent of Clinton supporters say it's the cause compared to 22 percent of Trump supporters.

The graphs below highlight the other varying responses:

Wide gaps between Trump, Clinton supporters in perceived effect of actions to address climate change

Clinton supporters far more likely to think climate scientists understand causes of climate change

But the topic—"the issue on which future civilization hinges," as Erik Wemple writes at the Washington Post—was "all but ignored" during Sunday night's square-off between Trump and Clinton.

The presidential hopefuls were not asked the very direct "As president, what are the steps you will take to address climate change?" even though, as Wemple points out, that was the fourth most popular question submitted to the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition—and despite the fact that the debate took place as deadly Hurricane Matthew brings record flooding to the southeast, and as the planet has just experienced a 16-month stretch of record warm temperatures.

Rather, they were asked by "uncommitted voter" Ken Bone: "What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?"

Trump responded by saying the Environmental Protection Agency "is killing" energy companies. He also touted the inaccurately named "clean coal," and said, "Coal will last for a thousand years in this country."

Clinton, for her part, said that natural gas could serve as a so-called "bridge fuel." Her response did, however, give climate change its sole mention of the debate. "I have a comprehensive energy policy but it really does include fighting climate change because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving to more clean and renewable energy as quickly as we can. Because I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses," she said.

Climate advocacy group 350.org took to Twitter to highlight the lack of climate coverage in the debate:

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard also condemned its "shameful" absence.

"The candidates spent very little time talking about climate change during tonight's debate but it is on the minds of so many Americans, especially as Hurricane Matthew continues to take a heavy toll here and in Haiti. Climate change demands the attention of both candidates and their parties, and it is shameful that it was given so little," she stated.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote Friday that "nowhere is the gap [between the two major parties] bigger or more consequential than on climate." The divide, he added, "arguably matters more for the future than any of their other disagreements."

"So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there's a rule against bringing it up in debates?" he asked.

"It's time to end the blackout on climate change as an issue. It needs to be front and center," he wrote, concluding that "letting it slide would be almost criminally irresponsible."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Exactly Right': Progressives Back Arizona Dems Censure of Sinema

"If you are a Democrat and you can't uphold the fundamental right to vote for all citizens... then there's a problem," said Rep. Ro Khanna.

Brett Wilkins ·


Amid Existential Threat to Reproductive Rights, Congress Urged to Act

"It's the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and if we don't fight like hell it could very well be the last," said one campaigner, who called on U.S. lawmakers to pass the Women's Health Protection Act.

Brett Wilkins ·


Black Mississippi State Senators Stage Walkout as Critical Race Theory Ban Passed

"We cannot continue to stumble into the future backwards," said one Black senator who taught for 33 years. "That's what this bill does."

Brett Wilkins ·


Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist Thích Nhất Hạnh Dead at 95

"He inspired so many good people to dedicate themselves to working for a more just and compassionate world."

Jessica Corbett ·


Draft Order Shows Trump Considered Using Military to Seize Voting Machines

"This was part of the records that Trump was fighting to keep from the January 6th committee," one government watchdog noted.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo