Gallup: A Drop in Concern over Warming

Emily Coven

Photo: Emily Coven

Another day, another poll showing that fewer Americans believe climate change is real.

Results from the latest Gallup Social Series Environment poll show that concern about global warming continues to wane, in some areas dipping to levels as low as when Gallup first started surveying about climate change in 1997.  The poll was conducted last week (between March 4 and March 7) and included responses from telephone interviews (land lines and cell phones) with 1,014 individuals 18 and older.

Key results include:

  • 19 percent say that effects of climate change “will never happen.” That compares with 16 percent last year and a low of 7 percent in 2001.
  • Almost half of Americans say most scientists are either unsure if global warming is happening (36 percent) or that most scientists believe that it is not happening (10 percent). Just 52 percent think most scientists “believe it is occurring,” down from 65 percent last year.
  • The poll showed a near-even split between those who think global temperature increases are due to human activity (50 percent) as opposed to natural causes (46 percent). That’s the lowest percentage to blame warming on human activity since Gallup first asked the question in 2003 and a drop of 8 percent from last year.
  • 48 percent said that news reports about climate change are “generally exaggerated” compared with 40 percent last year and 30 percent in 2006 and 2001.

The Gallup results mirror a recent study by Yale and George Mason universities called “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” The report found that the number of Americans who believe global warming is not happening has risen from 8 percent to 16 percent since 2008.

According to Gallup, the study results over the last two years mark a reversal in American attitudes about climate change.  Their data shows that concerns had increased from 1997 for over a decade, but in 2009 public concern retreated, and this year’s survey results mark an even more pronounced downtown.

As we have reported, this shift in attitudes may reflect recent publicity about mistakes in the 2007 IPCC report and the emails hacked and disseminated from the accounts of East Anglia climate scientists.  The record-breaking cold and snow in some parts of the country this year also could have played a role as well as the increasingly politicized nature of the debate.

Attitudes about Climate Change are Shifting. Is Yours?


One possible Facebook results "badge" from KQED's "Matter of Degree" survey

Coinciding with the release of a Climate Watch Facebook survey that explores attitudes toward climate change, a new national poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press shows that the percentage of people who believe that climate change is a reality has decreased significantly in the past year.  Last year, 71%  nationwide believed the Earth was warming, regardless of the cause. This year the number is 57%.

Yesterday, Andrew Kohut, who directs the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, and Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale Project on Climate Change joined Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation to discuss changing attitudes about climate change. (You can listen to the 30-minute segment or read the transcript here.)

Kohut said that the economy most likely plays a large role in the drop.  The number of respondents who assigned a top priority to protecting the environment dropped from 56% to 41% in this year’s study, while the proportion who chose dealing with the economy rose to 85%.  That squares with another part of the survey, in which fewer people said they were willing to protect the environment if it meant slowing economic growth or higher energy prices.

“I think what happens,” said Kohut on yesterday’s program, “is if you’re giving [the environment] a low priority, people will sometimes develop a rationale for that low priority. So you have more people saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s not all that serious’…”

Kohut also pointed out that the cool summer experienced by much of the country this year could have played a role in the apparent flagging acceptance of climate change.

The Pew report, released last week, shows a dramatic partisan split in attitudes toward climate change.  Just thirty-two percent of conservative Republicans believe there is solid evidence for global warming, compared with 83% of liberal Democrats, according to Pew.

Leiserowitz discussed his research into attitudes about climate change, which was done in collaboration with the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

“This research really came from the recognition that Americans don’t speak with a single voice about climate change,” said Leiserowitz. “And what we found, in fact, is that there are six different Americas within America on this particular issue.” National surveys of attitudes toward climate change often yield very different results from polls in California, where there has been greater acceptance of the warming concept in general, as well as the role of human activity in it.

The original Yale-George Mason study, called “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” divides survey-takers into six psychographic groups: Alarmed (18%), Concerned (33%), Cautious (19%), Disengaged (12%), Doubtful (11%), and Dismissive (7%).

Climate Watch teamed up with Leiserowitz and his colleague Ed Maibach from GMU, to create an online version of this survey, called “A Matter of Degree.”  You can take the survey on KQED’s website or on Facebook.  Both versions allow you to compare your results to those of the original study as well as all online survey-takers.  With the Facebook version you can also compare your results with your Facebook “friends” who have already taken the survey and can invite new friends to take the survey.  The Facebook application also features a discussion area where respondents can share thoughts about the climate change and the survey itself, and there are links to learn more about each profile “type”.

What’s your climate profile?  Take the survey and find out.