Two new polls on climate change


A pair of new polls offers insights on public opinion about climate change.

First, a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service asked (PDF), "From what you've read and heard, do you believe there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?" Of the respondents, 75% answered yes, 21% answered no, 1% volunteered a mixed response, and 2% said they didn't know or refused to answer. Of the respondents who did not answer no, 60% agreed with "Climate change is caused mostly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels," 34% agreed with "Climate change is caused mostly by natural patterns in the earth's environment," and 6% said that they didn't know or refused to answer.

The PRRI/RNS poll also investigated the connection between opinion about extreme weather and climate change on the one hand and religious beliefs about the end of the world on the other hand. A RNS story (December 13, 2012) reported, "More than a third of Americans believe the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence that we are in the 'end times' described in the New Testament — a period of turmoil preceding Jesus' Second Coming and the end of the world." NCSE's Peter M. J. Hess expressed concern about the implications of such attitudes for public policy on climate, telling RNS, "If you simply say, 'It's God’s will,' it absolves people of taking serious responsibility for their actions."

According to PRRI, "The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between December 5, 2012 and December 9, 2012 by professional interviewers ... Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,018 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (311 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The final sample was weighted to five different parameters — age, sex, geographic region, education and telephone usage — to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total adult population. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence."

Second, a poll from Associated Press-GfK asked (PDF), "Do you think that the world's temperature probably has been going up over the past 100 years, or do you think this probably has not been happening?" Of the respondents, 78% thought that this probably has been happening, while 18% thought that this probably has not been happening, and 5% didn't know. Those who accepted climate change were more confident of their answers, with 57% being extremely sure or very sure, while those who rejected it were less confident, with only 31% being extremely sure or very sure. That represents a reversal from the results of a 2009 poll, in which only 43% of those who accepted climate change were extremely sure or very sure and 52% of of those who rejected it were extremely sure or very sure.

In its own story about the poll, the Associated Press (December 14, 2012) observed, "The biggest change in the polling is among people who trust scientists only a little or not at all. About 1 in 3 of the people surveyed fell into that category. Within that highly skeptical group, 61 percent now say temperatures have been rising over the past 100 years. That's a substantial increase from 2009, when the AP-GfK poll found that only 47 percent of those with little or no trust in scientists believed the world was getting warmer." Jon Krosnick of Stanford University suggested that recent weather events may be responsible for swaying such doubters, commenting, "They don't believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say."

The poll was conducted from November 29 to December 3, 2012. According to AP-GfK, the poll was "based on a nationally-representative probability sample of 1,002 general population adults age 18 or older. ... The sample included the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish, depending on respondent preference. The combined landline and cell phone data were weighted to account for probabilities of selection, as well as age, sex, education and race, using targets from the March 2011 supplement of the Current Population Survey. ... The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults."

A section of NCSE's website contains previous coverage of such polls and surveys.