Large, consistent majority of Americans believe climate change is happening, want government to act

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We checked out a June 10 briefing held by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, “Have Americans’ Views on Global Warming Changed? A New Look at Public Opinion,” a report by Jon Krosnick on the latest iteration of public opinion polls on climate change. The data strongly suggest that leaders who champion climate policy can reap political gains, and indicate that the ‘climategate’ stolen e-mail and IPCC controversies are having very little impact on public opinion.

Post by Alexa Jay

Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick talked about his work in conducting global warming public opinion surveys for the past fifteen years in relation to his most recent data, a survey collected in June 2010.  Survey data available here

In the June 2010 survey, 74% of participants believed that global warming “probably has been happening” over the past 100 years, and 75% felt that human activities have contributed significantly to the warming trend (30% said it was caused mostly by things people do, 45% said it was caused equally by human behavior and natural causes).

Despite news reports over the last eight months that public opinion has “cooled” on the existence of global warming, Dr. Krosnick said that Americans’ opinions have in fact remained fairly consistent over the past decade.  In 1997, 79% of survey participants believed that global warming had probably been occurring over the previous 100 years; in 2008, that number was 80%.  Despite a modest decline, Krosnick argued that 74% is still an astounding level of agreement on an issue affecting public policy. 

Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of Americans support government-mandated emissions reductions, Krosnick said.  In the June 2010 survey, 76% of respondents felt that the US government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases businesses can produce.

Dr. Krosnick said that the “issue public” for global warming—the small percentage of people who care deeply about a given issue and will vote based on it—has nearly doubled from 8% of the population in 1997 to 15% in 2010. Typically, the opinions of an issue public will be evenly divided on opposing sides, Krosnick said, but on global warming the issue public has consistently been nearly unanimous in support of ameliorative action.  Among the issue public in the June 2010 survey, 88% believed that global warming has been happening, and 92% wanted the government to limit the amount of greenhouse gases businesses can emit.

Based on this evidence, Krosnick argued that there are lots of votes to be gained for politicians who support action on this issue, and few to be lost.

Despite crowing from extreme global warming deniers, including some senior members of Congress, that the ‘climategate’ hack and reports of IPCC errors had widely exposed global warming as a fraud, Krosnick’s data found that among those who even remembered hearing about the East Anglia e-mails in the news (32%), only 9% felt that the e-mails indicated that climate scientists should not be trusted.  Among those who recalled hearing about the IPCC mistakes (24%), that number was 13%.  Further, the data showed no decline in public trust in environmental scientists.

Earlier CSW post:
June 9: New national survey: Public concern about global warming is once again on the rise

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