COMPETING VERSIONS OF REALITY…. The good news is, most Americans acknowledge the reality of climate change; accept that it’s a serious problem; and support efforts, such as cap and trade, to address the crisis.

The bad news is, like practically everything else of late, it’s become a partisan issue in which the American mainstream has one set of beliefs, and Republicans have an entirely different reality.

The percentage of Americans who believe global warming is happening has dipped from 80 to 72 percent in the past year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as a majority still support a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The poll’s findings — which also show that 55 percent of respondents think the United States should curb its carbon output even if major developing nations such as China and India do less — suggest increasing political polarization around the issue, just as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are intensifying efforts to pass climate legislation and broker an international global warming pact.

The increase in climate skepticism is driven largely by a shift within the GOP. Since its peak 3 1/2 years ago, belief that climate change is happening is down sharply among Republicans — 76 to 54 percent — and independents — 86 to 71 percent. It dipped more modestly among Democrats, from 92 to 86 percent.

That there was any drop at all is discouraging. The problem grows more severe with each passing year, and policymakers are more inclined to take necessary actions if they feel like they’re responding to public demand. The more people reject reality, the more likely politicians will put off hard work.

In this case, the discouraging results are compounded by the simplicity of the poll question itself. As Kevin noted, “[T]his isn’t a drop in conservatives who think that global warming is manmade. It’s not a drop in the number who think it will continue in the future. It’s not a drop in the number who think it’s too expensive to do anything about it. The question ABC asked was whether or not temperatures had increased over the past hundred years. It’s a simple factual question like asking if the Allies won World War I. But only a bare majority of conservatives believe it. It’s Jim Inhofe’s party now.”

As this relates to legislation pending in Congress, there was one encouraging result — a 53% majority supports a cap-and-trade proposal. The results on this question have improved ever so slightly over the last several months.

On a related note, Thomas Friedman had a good column on all of this last week, explaining why even the most reason-resistant conservatives should take energy policy seriously: “[Y[ou don’t believe in global warming? You’re wrong, but I’ll let you enjoy it until your beach house gets washed away. But if you also don’t believe the world is getting more crowded with more aspiring Americans — and that ignoring that will play to the strength of our worst enemies, while responding to it with clean energy will play to the strength of our best technologies — then you’re willfully blind, and you’re hurting America’s future to boot.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.