National survey of American public opinion on global warming via Jon Krosnick, Stanford University
Politicians and pundits and the public have all been told by the media and others that public belief in global warming has dropped sharply. Except that it hasn’t, as polling by Stanford and Ipsos and Reuters make clear.
Yes, other polls, notably by Gallup and Pew, do seem to seem to show a sharp drop. But in exclusive interviews with Climate Progress, two leading experts on climate, public opinion and media coverage — Jon Krosnick and Max Boykoff — explain what’s really going on.
The big apparent drop in some polls is almost certainly due to the combination of the collapse in media coverage of global warming and pollsters asking a deeply flawed question.
How is that possible? Well, let’s look at a typical media spin on the subject, “Where Did Global Warming Go?” by Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times last month:
Across the nation, too, belief in man-made global warming, and passion about doing something to arrest climate change, is not what it was five years or so ago, when Al Gore’s movie had buzz and Elizabeth Kolbert’s book about climate change, “Field Notes From a Catastrophe,” was a best seller. The number of Americans who believe the earth is warming dropped to 59 percent last year from 79 percent in 2006, according to polling by the Pew Research Group.
Hmm. That’s a pretty big drop — except the Pew Research group doesn’t actually ask people whether they believe the earth is warming!
Unfortunately, Pew asks people “From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?” Instead of asking people what they believe or think, Pew asks them what they’ve read or heard.
Both Krosnick and Boykoff make a strong case that this rather fatally taints the whole question, especially since media coverage — which represents much if not most of what the public reads or hears on climate change — collapsed in 2010. Boykoff has an excellent new book, Who Speaks for the Climate? Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change, which you can buy here. He discusses this specific subject in a must-read section titled, “Polling and public sentiment.”
I’ve long been a fan of Boykoff’s work and interviewed him last week. It was his research (among others) that documented the recent media collapse in climate coverage in this stunning chart: