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: