U.S. Views on Climate Change Stable After Extreme Winter
Politics

U.S. Views on Climate Change Stable After Extreme Winter

by Lydia Saad

Story Highlights

  • Slight majority continue to say effects of warming already evident
  • No change in percentage worried about the issue, at 55%
  • Less than half see global warming as a serious threat to them

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Although climate scientists have been in the news describing this winter as a strong signal that global warming is producing more extreme weather, Americans are no more likely today (55%) than in the past two years to believe the effects of global warming are occurring.

Americans' Belief That Effects of Global Warming Are Already Happening

The 2014-2015 winter season brought record warm temperatures to the Western U.S. while it delivered record cold to much of the rest of the country and record snowfall in the East. However, this winter has neither created an uptick in new believers that the effects of global warming are manifest nor reduced the ranks of skeptics. A third of Americans believe the effects of global warming will either never happen (16%) or not happen in their lifetime (17%), about the same as in March 2014.

Similarly, as Gallup reported previously, Americans' levels of concern about a number of environmental issues are no higher today than last March, including concerns about global warming. Just over half of Americans, 55%, currently say they worry a "great deal" (32%) or "fair amount" (23%) about the issue, roughly the same as last year and similar to the average over the past six years. Public worry about global warming was higher from 2006 to 2009, and higher still in 1999 and 2000.

Worry About Global Warming/Climate Change

Other Global Warming Trends Also Steady

Three other trends reflecting Americans' concerns and attitudes about global warming tell the same story. Just over a third believe global warming will pose a serious threat to their way of life in their lifetime, a slight majority believe the seriousness of global warming is either underestimated or reported correctly in the news, and a similar majority believe global warming is the result of human activities rather than natural causes.

Three Measures of Public Belief About Global Warming

In the same poll, Gallup found 51% of Americans saying the weather in their area was colder than usual this winter, while 18% said it was warmer and 29% said it was about the same. However, when asked what they attribute it to, most of those in the cold regions believe the extreme cold reflected normal variations in weather. At the same time, just half of those in the warm spots attribute the unusual heat to global warming; the other half think it was normal variation.

Thus, one reason more Americans may not make the connection between unusual weather patterns and global warming is that many more experienced extreme cold than record heat, making the connection less intuitive.

Bottom Line

Americans' global warming views have been in a holding pattern for the past few years. This winter, much of the country experienced either unusually hot, cold or snowy weather, theoretically providing cause for people to reflect on whether they were witnessing normal variation in weather or the effects of global warming. However, most Americans believe the strange weather reflects natural variations, not global warming -- and the stability of Gallup's global warming trends underscores this.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 5-8, 2015, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

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