Sea ice floats in the western Antarctic peninsula, March 05, 2016, where penguins forage for krill. But krill are getting scarcer in the western Antarctic peninsula, threatened by climate change and fishing. 
Photo by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty

Concern for environmental issues rises ahead of 2016 election

New polls indicate that concern for environmental issues has risen ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Americans are taking global warming more seriously now than at any period in the last eight years, according to Gallup’s annual environment survey. Sixty-four percent of Americans said that they are either worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming. At this time in 2015, only 55 percent of Americans said they felt this way. 

Findings from Gallup also reveal that 63 percent of Americans said the weather in their local area was warmer than usual this winter. When they were asked what they attributed these temperatures to, more Americans ascribed the shift to climate change than normal variation. Gallup’s report noted that “a larger, more regionally and politically diverse group of Americans is reporting warmer temperatures this year.” Ten percent of Americans said winter was colder than usual than usual, while 26 percent said that the weather was relatively the same.

The divergent positions taken by Democratic and Republican candidates during the 2016 race reflect a stark contrast in the way the two parties approach these issues, as well as how they would respond to Americans’ environmental concerns.

2/29/16, 6:13 PM ET

Sanders on climate: 'I will not reject science'

During a rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took a moment to advocate for climate change awareness to a crowd of supporters at Milton High School.

Democratic candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have made climate change a key part of their presidential campaigns. Clinton wooed Democratic lawmakers last April with progressive stances on executive and regulatory actions for environmental causes. On the campaign trail, Sanders has repeatedly advocated for climate change awareness, vowing that he “will not reject science.”

There has been more variation in stances taken on the right, which range from considerably less forceful to completely dismissive.

Donald Trump recently softened his position on global warming after calling it a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” While the GOP front-runner has still used the word “hoax” when describing certain aspects of climate change, he has walked back some of his previous comments and said his past insinuation about a Chinese plot was a “joke.”

A spokesperson for Gov. John Kasich told The New York Times in December that he “believes that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it,” although Kasich has also said that humans are not the “primary” cause.

Sen. Ted Cruz has taken the most dismissive position. The Texas lawmaker has said that climate change is “the perfect pseudo-scientific theory,” “not science” but “religion.” He also denied that the temperature is rising, referencing satellite data that scientists say Cruz is misinterpreting.

Gallup’s annual environmental survey also found that levels of worry on six key environmental issues also increased from last year. Among these issues, more Americans were concerned “a great deal” about the extinction of plant and animal species, air pollution and the loss of tropical rain forests.  Notably, 61 percent of Americans were worried “a great deal” about polluted drinking water.

RELATED: Flint prepares for the political spotlight to fade

Water pollution has come to the forefront of the 2016 race in the wake of the crisis in Flint, Michigan. Residents of the impoverished city have suffered from the city’s lead-contaminated water system, an ongoing calamity that stemmed from a 2013 decision by state officials to switch water sources. The effort, which was intended to cut costs, has reaped devastating human, health and financial consequences for the people of Flint. 

MSNBC Live, 3/17/16, 11:10 AM ET

Who is to blame in the Flint water crisis?

NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports from outside Capitol Hill where the Flint water crisis hearing is taking place. She talks to Flint residents about who they believe is to blame.

Both Clinton and Sanders have condemned Michigan officials, and called on Gov. Rick Snyder to resign for his handling of the water crisis.

Some Republicans have said the water crisis demonstrates officials’ ineptitude, but none have called for Snyder’s resignation. 

Cruz decried the crisis as a failure of government and recently lifted a hold he placed on bipartisan legislation to address the water crisis.

Meanwhile, Kasich said he believed Snyder was “doing everything he can” to address the problem and maintained that to “try to tell him how to do his job I don’t think is appropriate.”

While Trump has tried to avoid commenting on the situation, he has said Snyder is having “a very difficult time.”

“It’s a shame what’s happening in Flint, Michigan,” Trump said in January. “A thing like that shouldn’t happen but, again, I don’t want to comment on that.”

Climate Change, Flint and Global Warming

Concern for environmental issues rises ahead of 2016 election