Another major public opinion analysis confirms that Americans are growing substantially more “Alarmed” and “Concerned” about global warming, while at the same time becoming less “Doubtful” and “Dismissive.”
These findings — and these categories — come from a new analysis of the opinions of some 1200 Americans taken in March and unveiled this week by the Climate Change Communication programs at Yale and George Mason University (GMU). Here is a comparison of some key findings of theirs over the years:
The researchers explain: “The proportion of Americans in the Alarmed segment increased by five percentage points over the past year, and is now comparable to proportion found in the fall of 2008, when the segments were first identified and global warming concern was at a high point nationally.”
The total estimate measured of Americans either “Doubtful” and “Dismissive” is at its lowest point in years. The “Dismissive” are those “who do not believe global warming is real and are likely to believe in various conspiracy theories about the issue.”
These important findings are consistent with earlier polling this year by Gallup:
The Yale/GMU researchers had reported in April that the number of Americans who are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming,” exceeds the number who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of three to one (43 percent to 14 percent). Similarly, that earlier analysis found that the number of Americans who are “less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly opposes taking action to reduce global warming,” exceeds the number who would be more likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of 4-to-1 (45 percent vs. 11 percent).
Their new analysis frames those findings this way: “Climate change is a top-tier issue in the 2016 presidential election only for Americans who are in the most engaged of the six groups — the Alarmed” 17 percent of the U.S. population and 19 percent of registered voters). But candidates who support climate action “are also more likely to earn the votes of a large majority of the Concerned (28% of the population and 29% of registered voters) and a substantial minority of the Cautious (27% of the population and 25% of registered voters).” On the flip side, candidates who oppose climate action “are less likely to earn the votes of Americans in three of the six groups. Only the Dismissive (10% of the population and of registered voters) are more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes action on global warming.”
Why is the public becoming more alarmed and concerned?
Why is public opinion turning so strongly? No doubt the increasingly obvious reality of global warming played a role: 2015 was the hottest year on record by far, and this winter has been the hottest winter on record by far for both the United States and the globe. Gallup notes that “Sixty-three percent say they experienced an unusually warm winter, and the majority of this group ascribes the warm weather pattern to human-caused climate change.”
But there is little doubt, too, that the increasing attention brought to bear on climate change impacts — and the role of carbon pollution — by the Pope and the Paris climate summit also played a role.
We know from a widely-praised 2012 study that media coverage and people like the Pope speaking out have an impact. That analysis concluded, “media coverage of climate change and elite cues from politicians and advocacy groups are among the most prominent drivers of the public perception of the threat associated with climate change.”
Indeed, we learned from a November Yale/GMU analysis, “The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis Changed the Conversation About Global Warming,” concluded that “Pope Francis changed the conversation about global warming.” In particular, their public opinion research showed that “17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue.”
So messaging about the moral necessity of climate action from key influencers — and “facts on the ground” like record warming and extreme weather — matter. The public is increasingly alarmed and concerned about global warming. They should be.