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Global warming, the next partisan divide [Updated]

November 25, 2009 |  7:55 am

It's true that we have not yet seen the finale on healthcare reform.

Nor have we heard the last about President Obama's Afghanistan policy. Or about financial regulatory reform that could pit Main Street against Wall Street.

But you can tell that the next issue on the horizon, after the smoke has cleared from the current debates, is global warming.

Already, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has mustered its considerable heft against a cap-and-trade bill moving through Congress. And Republicans have been unstinting in their criticism of what one congressman, Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, called "the global warming Gestapo."

A new poll will probably give fodder to partisans on both sides. The Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that fewer and fewer Americans -- though still a majority -- believe that global warming is a real threat. According to the poll, 72% of the public now thinks climate change is caused by people, down from 80% last year. 

Since its peak nearly four years ago, belief that people are causing climate change is down sharply among Republicans -- 76% to 54% -- and independents -- 86% to 71%. Even Democrats are growing more skeptical; their number is down from 92% to 86%. Maybe Al Gore needs to bring his movie back for reruns.

Still, whether climate change is man-made or cyclical, a majority of poll respondents (53%) support legislation to control emissions. And one analyst thinks the slippage may be due less to skepticism over global warming than concerns about the economy.

"The majority of people view it as an economic issue," said David Winston, who has polled for the House and Senate Republican leadership on the issue.

[Updated at 8:41 a.m.: As if anticipating the coming debate, the White House plans to announce today that the United States will commit to reduce its gas emissions "in the range of" 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 -- the target set out in the climate bill the House passed in June.]

-- Johanna Neuman

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