Indiana Environmental Reporter
BLOOMINGTON – A new Indiana University survey found that a majority of Hoosiers experienced a difficult 2020 and expect the next decade to present similar life-altering complications.
According to results of the IU Environmental Resilience Institute’s Hoosier Life Survey 2.0, a majority of Hoosier households said they expect their families to be harmed by another major disease outbreak, extreme weather caused by climate change or an economic crisis within the next decade.
“In 2020, we had a bunch of these weeks where events happened that rocked what we felt we understood about what it meant to be people or to live with one another,” said study co-leader and IU sociologist Matthew Houser. “It was just a wild year.”
As a social scientist, Houser said he was curious about how the tumultuous year had affected Indiana residents.
The research team originally surveyed Hoosiers in 2019, but the world then was significantly different than the one they experienced in 2020 and today.
A global pandemic took the lives of more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and nearly 4 million worldwide. The pandemic revealed underlying health and social inequities as the virus disproportionately affected minority and low-income Americans.
The pandemic set off an economic crisis that revealed more inequities as the crisis, which affected most workers, was found to have a disproportionate impact on women, non-white workers and people with low incomes and less education.
The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and other police killings of Black Americans set off protests and a social justice movement that continues today.
The setting for those events was a world experiencing the hottest year on record, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, a record number of named storms and many other worsening climate change impacts.
The team asked the same Hoosiers about their experiences in 2020 and their expectations for the years ahead.
“We just felt like it was really important to follow up on that survey, because we have this natural experiment, essentially. That survey closed right as the pandemic hit the United States and Indiana,” Houser said. “So, we didn’t have any of that influence, or at the very least, an extremely small level that influences in the original survey. And, so, if we followed back up, we knew we would be able to capture all of these different 2020 impacts in people’s views.”
Overall, many Hoosiers reported that 2020 was a difficult year for them.
Nearly two-thirds of all Hoosiers surveyed, 64%, said their life in 2020 was worse than it was in 2019. Slightly more than a quarter of Hoosiers, or 26%, said life was about the same. About 10% said life was better in 2020.
Hoosiers also reported that they expect more of the same troubles that were present in 2020 to harm their family the rest of the decade.
In 2019 only a small, prescient percentage of Hoosiers, 17%, expected a major disease outbreak would affect their families. That number has risen to 47% in the new survey.
More than half of Hoosiers said they believe their family will be affected by extreme weather, a government shutdown or another economic crisis.
Houser said the pessimistic view of a majority of Hoosiers could be due to more general awareness of these significant risks.
He said the researchers expected to see a tradeoff where people would become more concerned about the events they experienced directly in 2020 in exchange for other threats like climate change.
“We’re not seeing that, and it really contradicts quite a bit of the theory and existing research,” Houser said. “Based on the predictions, we would have seen a decline in belief in climate change, less overall supportive attitudes about the issue. That’s certainly not what we saw.”
More Hoosiers reported believing climate change was happening in 2020 than 2019, with the percentage jumping from 79% to 84%.
The jump includes an 11% increase in climate change belief reported by Hoosiers who identified as Republicans, a party whose leaders have mocked the existence of climate change. In 2019, 61% of Republican Hoosiers said climate change was real. A year later, that number jumped to 72%.
Only a small percentage of respondents said they believed climate change and extreme weather were the most important problems facing Indiana today, but large majorities of Hoosiers spanning several generations reported believing climate change would get worse in their lifetime.
The finding could mean that more Hoosiers would support action to address climate change in the future.
Houser said he was surprised to learn how capable Hoosiers appear to be of coping with change.
“We live in a society that struggles to change, and maybe that’s always been true, but it feels particularly true now,” he said. And what this data shows is that there’s still the capacity for Hoosiers and maybe Americans to come to different terms, to come to different beliefs.”