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Gallup: Public Understanding Of Climate Science Continues Rebounding

By Joe Romm on April 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

"Gallup: Public Understanding Of Climate Science Continues Rebounding"

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Trend: Primary Cause of Global Warming

To go by the polls, the high point of public understanding of climate science was 2006 to 2008. That’s no surprise, since that period  saw a peak in media reporting on climate science, starting in 2006 with An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary of Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation on climate science, and continuing in 2007 with the 4 scientific assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Disputes on the science were kept to a minimum in the 2008 election since both major candidates — Barack Obama and John McCain — understood and articulated both climate science and the need for action. It wasn’t until after Obama was elected with progressive majorities in both houses of Congress and the prospects for climate action became real that the anti-science disinformation campaign kicked into overdrive.

Ironically, or tragically, just as the anti-science disinformation campaign was ramping up, the advocates of climate action decided to downplay climate in their pitch for action, as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explained it in his June 2010 article, “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?

And the media’s coverage of climate science  utterly collapsed (see “Silence of the Lambs 2: Media Herd’s Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change Drops Sharply — Again“). Indeed evening news coverage dropped from over 386 minutes of coverage in 2007 to 32 minutes (!) last year:

Because of this collapse in media coverage, Gallup’s polling questions that begin “from what you’ve read or heard” is not an ideal way to find out what the public actually knows, as  leading social scientists explained to me last year (see “Experts Debunk Polls that Claim Sharp Drop in Number of Americans Who Understand Global Warming Is Happening“).

Many polls indicate a rebound  in public understanding of climate science — see “Public Opinion Stunner: More Americans Understand World is Warming — Thanks to Rick Perry, Reports Reuters.” Krosnick attributes some of the rebound to the coverage of climate during the GOP presidential contest.

Brookings — and the public itself — puts the rebound on  the amazing spate of extreme weather. As Climate Progress reported in late February, Americans are attributing their increased belief in global warming to their (correct) perception that the planet is warming and the weather is getting more extreme. Roughly half of people who believe in global warming said that these were the primary influence:

Gallup, for whatever reason, has decided to downplay the continuing, albeit small, rise in public understanding, as evidenced in their headline “In U.S., Global Warming Views Steady Despite Warm Winter.”  But in fact

  1. Their data do show movement in views (the jump in the public’s view of “when effects  global warming will happen” is as large a one-year jump as you can find in their 14-year record, see chart below)
  2. The winter was  indeed unusually warm, but this poll preceded the off-the-charts heat wave in mid-March that blanketed much of the country for extended peer to time drove a considerable amount of media coverage.

I’d love to see them redo the poll right now.

Trend: Opinion About When Effects of Global Warming Will HappenWe see a similar jump  in the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus about global warming:

Trend: Opinion About Scientific Consensus on Global Warming

This is all the more remarkable because the President and the media are hardly talking about the subject — though it is certainly there was a fair amount of media blowback from Rick Perry’s disinformation about the scientific consensus, in part because fellow Republican Jon Huntsman took him on (see “Perry’s Climate Lies Win 4 Pinocchios“).

And this move is also remarkable because the Tea Party crowd, largely conservative Republicans, generally get their news from  sources that have continued  spreading nonstop disinformation. Gallup’s figures suggest that the polling numbers for  Republicans have hardly budget, which means most of the movement is due to shifts in the views of  independents and progressives.

Certainly the  partisan divide is large, as Gallup reports:

Summary of Global Warming Views, by Party ID, March 2012

But again this is mostly the Tea Party crowd,  especially conservative Republican males, and that’s what makes climate change a wedge issue:

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13 Responses to Gallup: Public Understanding Of Climate Science Continues Rebounding

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s nice to see an uptick, but given the level of corruption in this country, including in the media, we can’t expect much change until the number goes well into the 60′s. Except for Australia, I would guess that the rest of the world is in the 80-90% range.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Mike, Australia (it rhymes with failure) is beginning to make the USA look enlightened. The hideous Julia Dullard, our accidental PM, caved into the Big Business Bosses yesterday, and promised to gut environmental law and regulations. Thirty years of grinding effort, flushed down the toilet in a trice, once the money power barks its orders. She was cheered on in this endeavour by the Murdoch sewer, who usually attack her mercilessly. And, in the new fashion, the new Premier of Queensland (our ‘Deep North’ analagous to the Deep South of the USA-think Louisiana, but much bigger)took about three minutes to gut all the state’s solar energy projects, launch a tirade against the carbon tax, promise ever greater coal production, end a major literary award (books give ‘em the creeps)and vow to revoke legislation allowing civil unions for gays (they be Christians, of the Alabama type). Oh, and the Federal regime has has ASIO, our boofhead appendage of the CIA, snooping on environmentalists. Night draws near.

  2. Al in Ky says:

    As long as the extraction industries own a large percentage of our state and federal lawmakers, nothing will be done.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Irony ON

    Great, now we just need to wait another 47 years for climate action, to have every single entity agree.

    Irony OFF

  4. M Tucker says:

    The fickle public is easily swayed by rhetoric from politicians, conservative media pundits and not climate scientists. This is exacerbated by the takeover of the Republican Party by the ‘tea-party’ extremists and I’m not convinced it is only males. When I think of the tea-party Sarah Palin instantly comes to mind and she has a big influence on the opinions of many women.

  5. Raul M. says:

    European Space Agency has an remotely controlled
    transport vehicle to supply the International Space Station and it just burns up on reentry.
    If there were satellites that need to be repositioned, maybe it would be a good thing to make one of those to reposition satellites. One with large hands to unfurl.
    If the propulsion fluid is the main carry, one could reposition quite a number of satellites. Private industry might like it too.

  6. L. Hamilton says:

    We have been tracking public beliefs about climate change in New Hampshire four times per year over the past two years; the next poll will be conducted next week. So far there’s little sign of movement up or down.

    The most striking feature is not the more or less stable average, but the high polarization among people who think they understand the issue well. See Figure 6 here:
    http://www.carseyinstitute.unh.edu/publications/IB-Hamilton-Climate-Change-National-NH.pdf

  7. Charles says:

    As an educator, the take away message is the same one that social scientists have been discovering: unless you bring the issue “home” to folks, they are less likely to buy in. We can spout off with all the scientific understanding we have about AGW–and that has its place–but unless we make the issue relevant to people’s immediate lives, they’re less likely to relate or express concern. Focusing on changing weather patterns and immediate impacts of changing climate allows the public to connect in ways that the best graphs and data sets GISS, NOAA, and Hadley can produce just cannot.

  8. Nick B says:

    America, a once great nation that led the world and defined the term “aspiration” in the minds of many around the world, now is overcome by deceit and corruption on such a scale that the policies of the few wealthy businessmen will reek consequences on billions of people around the world.

    For this reason alone, America throws off her mantel of World Leader or Super Power, because no one believes she can change her ways and lead our species into a new phase of sustainable life on Earth.

    So who will? We in Europe are looking East – but is there time to act?

  9. fj says:

    when the stuff starts staring you in the face it’s pretty hard to dispute.

    and, we must have a coherent story to act on this crisis with extreme urgency.

  10. Brooks Bridges says:

    I think the uptick is at least partially due to the various mini climate change Pearl Harbors being reported in the MM. The MM may not connect the dots to climate change but people reading items like the following ARE making that link:

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/drought/story/2012-04-11/mild-winter-expands-usa-drought/54225018/1

  11. Bill Woods says:

    Mostly this is due to the changing state of the economy. When it crashed in 2007-08, that took precedence over all other concerns. But in the last year or so, it’s finally been ticking upward.