The poll numbers on the U.S. electorate’s perceptions of climate change have changed over the years. After the most recent spate of tropical storms out of the Atlantic, a new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 68% of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening. Moreover, almost all of this 68% attribute this increase in extreme weather events totally or mostly (46%) to human-induced climate change or at least in combination (39%) with natural variability. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has experienced 15 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. The Associated Press’s analysis of 167 years of federal storm data concludes that “no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of those storms spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.” Having experienced the recent storms first-hand, Greg Thompson, a retired pest control researcher in New Orleans, sees it this way: “When so many things are happening and so many of them (storms) are intense and so many of them are once-in-500-year levels and they’re all occurring, it’s a pretty good sign global warming is having an effect.”
A new study by Yale and George Mason universities of US registered voters and their attitudes about climate change reports some consistent results: Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that human-caused global warming is happening and to support climate action by elected officials.
But the studies’ authors dig deeper to show more nuanced shifts in public opinion about climate change. As they wrote: “One of the most interesting—and consistent—findings is a clear difference between liberal/moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. In many respects, liberal/moderate Republicans are similar to moderate/ conservative Democrats on the issue of global warming, potentially forming a moderate, middle-ground public. Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.“
Here are the numbers:
- 73% of registered voters think global warming is happening.
- 95% of liberal Democrats and 80% of moderate/conservative Democrats think it’s happening.
- 74% of Independents also respond this way.
- 47% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening. But this number increased 19% over the last two years, making it the largest shift in attitude of any of the groups polled.
- 71% of liberal/moderate Republicans think that global warming is happening.
- 56% of all registered voters think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and an additional 4% think that both human activities and natural changes cause it.
- 43% of registered voters are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming” while 14% are “less likely to vote for” such a candidate.
For more analysis of respondents’ support for specific government policies on renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, consumer behavior, and political activism, read here.
Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, attributes this rise in conservative belief in global warming in part to the drop in climate denial rhetoric on the campaign trail. “In this presidential race, climate change hasn’t come up on the Republican side at all. It means that none of the political discourse, the discussion among the Republican Party right now, is addressing climate change at all. That’s actually an improvement in the discourse.” This absence, he reasons, may have made it easier for some conservatives to shift their views “because they’re not hearing a constant barrage of ‘This is a liberal hoax.’”
Analyzing the poll data for its potential impact on the 2016 presidential election, Leiserowitz concedes that “it’s a very small proportion of Americans that say, ‘This is the one single issue that I’m voting on. … But on the other hand, there’s a much larger proportion of Americans who say, ‘It’s one of the key issues that I’m going to be paying attention to.’”