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Two years ago, New Jersey became the first state in the union to require public schools to teach students about climate change, as early as kindergarten, and throughout their classes, even in physical education. According to the latest results from the FDU Poll, Jersey residents overwhelmingly support required education about climate change, with 70 percent of residents favoring it, and concerns that it might upset children having no impact on their views.
“At the time, this was seen as kind of a far-left policy,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the director of the poll. “But two years later, this might be one of the Murphy administration’s most popular measures.”
When the curricular requirement was introduced, there were concerns about uneven funding for the mandate; today, objections more frequently come in the name of climate anxiety (also called eco-anxiety), a feeling of distress and helplessness that can arise from awareness of the dire state of climate change. To see whether concerns about climate anxiety changed how Jersey residents view the issue, an experiment was embedded in the survey. Half of respondents were asked whether they approved of teaching children about climate change, and told that some people oppose it; the other half were told that there were concerns that it could upset children. However, there is not a statistically significant difference in responses between the two groups, indicating that bringing up climate anxiety doesn’t change how people feel about the instruction.
“Maybe people don’t think climate anxiety is something to be worried about,” said Cassino. “Or maybe they think kids should be a little scared. Either way, it doesn’t move the needle.”
Democrats are more likely than other partisan groups to approve of the climate change curriculum mandate, with 96 percent saying that the instruction should be required. What’s surprising is the extent to which independents and Republicans support it: 65 percent of independents say that schools should teach about climate change, with only 34 percent opposing. Republicans are evenly split on the issue, with 45 percent supporting, and 45 percent opposing. Issues like this also generally divide people based on education, but Jersey residents with a college degree are only a little more likely (75 percent) to approve of the mandate than those without (67 percent). Older and younger residents are equally likely to approve of the requirement.
“We don’t have a lot of non-partisan issues in New Jersey,” said Cassino. “Given that we can’t even agree that climate change is real, it’s striking how little division there is on this issue.”