Hoosiers express greater concern about future pandemics, climate change

A new survey from the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute reveals that Hoosiers are more concerned about a future disease outbreak than they were before 2020.

The Hoosier Life Survey 2.0 is part of a comprehensive effort by IU researchers to gauge Indiana residents’ environmental attitudes as a follow-up to the first Hoosier Life Survey conducted in 2019. Results of the 2019 survey have been shared with policymakers, educators, businesses leaders and the public to facilitate discussions and decision-making about how to address climate change in Indiana and boost state resilience.

IU researchers checked in with Indiana residents who participated in the 2019 Hoosier Life Survey to get a sense of how they coped in 2020 — a year filled with health-, economic- and justice-related crises.

According to the Hoosier Life Survey 2.0 results, nearly 1 in 2 Indiana residents anticipate that their family is likely to be affected by a new disease outbreak in the next decade — compared to the 1 out of 5 who felt the same way when they were surveyed in 2019.

About 1,200 of the 2,700 Hoosiers who responded to the first survey participated in the follow-up survey, conducted between October 2020 and March 2021.

“What we found is that Hoosiers generally express much more pessimism about the future than they did in the initial survey, issued just before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Matt Houser, co-leader of the study and an IU sociologist and Environmental Resilience Institute research fellow. “Presented with the possibility of facing hypothetical threats in the next decade, such as extreme weather, a disease outbreak, a government shutdown or an economic crisis, respondents judged they were all more likely than they did a year before. This makes a lot of sense. 2020 was hard on everyone; it’s tough not see the world in a different way.”

Other key findings of the Hoosier Life Survey 2.0 include:

  • Nearly 2 out of 3 Hoosiers reported their lives in 2020 as being worse than they were in 2019, with 28% rating the year as “much worse.” Seventy percent of those who regarded their lives as worse indicated that the pandemic was the biggest factor.
  • Over half of respondents said they knew someone who had contracted COVID-19, and nearly 40% said they or someone in their household had lost a job or had their work hours cut due to the pandemic.
  • Following a period of nationwide protests against policing practices in 2020, more than half of Hoosier Republicans reported somewhat or much less support for the Black Lives Matter movement compared to where they stood six months before. In contrast, nearly 2 out of 3 Hoosier Democrats indicated they were somewhat or much more supportive of the movement. Approximately 46% of Republicans reported feeling more supportive of full funding for Indiana police, while only 12% of Democrats said the same.

Houser said that given the more immediate crises of 2020, it would make sense if Hoosiers’ climate change concerns dipped. However, the survey showed an about 5% increase in both the number of respondents who believe that climate change is happening and in those who believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change. Overall, 84% of respondents agreed that climate change is happening, and 83% attribute the cause of climate change at least partly to human activities.

Further analysis showed that a significant portion of these gains can be attributed to Hoosier Republicans’ change in beliefs, Houser said. From 2019 to 2020, Hoosier Republicans exhibited an 11% increase in climate change belief and a 2% increase in the number who believed that humans play a primary role in causing climate change.

“Historically, Republicans have been deeply skeptical of climate change and deeply entrenched in that skepticism,” he said. “The fact that Hoosier Republicans seem to be shifting views on the reality of climate change is certainly significant.”

Preliminary analysis suggests that a couple of factors may be contributing to this trend, Houser said. First, the pool of survey respondents became 2% more conservative in 2020 compared to how they answered in 2019, with these “new” Republicans much more likely to accept climate change and its underlying causes. Second, Republicans who reported consuming less media in 2020 showed more openness to believing that climate change is happening.

“It could be that people joining the Republican Party are bringing their climate change beliefs with them, or perhaps less time spent with conservative-leaning media has made Hoosier Republicans more open to accepting climate change,” Houser said. “It’s also possible that some Republicans always felt this way and are now more comfortable admitting it. Ultimately, more analysis is needed to explain this trend.”

The survey also showed that the generational divide surrounding climate change beliefs at the national level also exists in Indiana, he said. According to the survey, 35% of Gen Z and millennial Hoosiers expect the problem of climate change to “get much worse” in their lifetime compared to 17%, 15% and 11% of Gen Xers, baby boomers and those in the silent generation, respectively.

Additionally, Gen Z and millennial Hoosiers were more likely than all other generations to rank racial inequality as the most significant problem facing Indiana right now, with about 14% of the younger generations ranking this as the top problem compared to 3% to 5% of those in all other generations.

COVID-19, however, was seen as the biggest issue for Indiana by the majority of Hoosiers, regardless of age.

About the Environmental Resilience Institute

Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute brings together a coalition of university scholars and leaders in the government, business, nonprofit, and community sectors to help Indiana better prepare for the challenges that environmental changes bring to Hoosiers’ economy, health and livelihood.

IU Research

Indiana University’s world-class researchers have driven innovation and creative initiatives that matter for 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to collaborating with NASA to search for life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Supported by $854 million last year from our partners, IU researchers are building collaborations and uncovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the globe.

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