Public Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change: Part Politics, Part Weather, Little Science

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 3:30 PM
Room C101 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Mary D. Stampone, New Hampshire State Climate Office, Durham, NH; and L. C. Hamilton

Despite the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now in response to human activities, recent national and regional surveys show that public opinion on this issue remains divided. The majority of the over 22,000 respondents who participated in the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS), 2011 National and 2010-13 Carsey Institute's Community and Environment in Rural American (N/CERA) surveys agreed with the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now. However, respondents disagreed on the causes of climate change with just over half (52-54 %) agreeing with the consensus and over a third (36-39 %) rejecting it in favor of natural variability. Across all surveys, respondents who self-identified as politically liberal (conservative) were more likely to agree (disagree) with the consensus. This polarization increased with level of education among both liberal and conservative respondents. Factors such as political affiliation and education were not sufficient predictors of climate change beliefs among politically independent respondents. Belief in anthropogenic climate change among independents varied between surveys, ranging from approximately 40-70 % in favor of the consensus. Independents interviewed in the 2010-13 CERA surveys were more likely (55-70 %) to believe in anthropogenic climate change when surveyed on days >2 C above normal. This analysis indicates that politics and recent, local weather patterns are the primary factors that influence an individual's opinion on climate change even if it conflicts with what is accepted by the scientific community.