Public Opinion Stunner: More Americans Understand World is Warming — Thanks to Rick Perry, Reports Reuters

Did Rick Perry’s lies on global warming inadvertently trigger a backlash among voters?  Reuters and Stanford’s public opinion expert Jon Krosnick think so:

More Americans than last year believe the world is warming and the change is likely influenced by the Republican presidential debates, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Thursday.

The percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year in the poll conducted Sept 8-12.

Certainly there has been a fair amount of media blowback from Perry’s disinformation, in part because fellow Republican Jon Huntsman took him on (see “Perry’s Climate Lies Win 4 Pinocchios“).

In our topsy-turvy world, Reuters and Krosnick argue the media coverage and backlash to the anti-science remarks of Rick Perry and other GOP presidential contenders has moved many Americans to reject those extremist views:

As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University….

“That is exactly the kind of situation that will provoke the public to think about the issue in a way that they haven’t before,” Krosnick said about news reports on the Republicans denying climate change science.

And you thought nothing good could come from the GOP rush to deny basic science.  Interestingly, the polling shows that the biggest movement toward understanding the Earth has been warming occurred among independents, a 9.5% rise in those who believe the Earth has been warming.

Of course, the fact that it has been so damn hot around the country with such staggering extreme weather may also be playing a role.  Still, the Atlantic‘s senior editor Derek Thompson makes a similar argument in his piece, “Rick Perry, Accidental Civics Teacher,” that “the media relies on his brand of hyperbole to have any sort of public policy debate.

Krosnick goes on to argue that enough voters care very deeply about global warming that this could be a winning political issue for Obama — if the President chooses to take it on:

Global warming could be an important issue in next year’s election, because some 15 percent of voters see it as their primary concern, said Krosnick, who is also a university fellow at the Resources for the Future think tank.

If President Barack Obama, a Democrat, can define himself as the environmental candidate, he could have a large advantage over a Republican, Krosnick said. If however, a Republican softens his or her stance on climate and Obama, who has failed to pass a climate bill in his first term, moves more to the center, it may not be a factor in the election.

Considerable polling research by Krosnick and others support that view.  Krosnick has shown that Democrats could use this as a wedge issue since it does split Republican from independents.  A recent study of his found:

“Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change – acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action – according to a June 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University.”

Public opinion expert Edward Maibach of George Mason University made a similar point in his Climate Progress post, “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?” — a piece  that also contains links to a dozen different polls coming to the same conclusion.

Yes, I know,  for Obama to define himself as an environmental candidate he would actually have to consistently do things that  benefit the environment, which is to say benefit human beings with cleaner air and clean water and a livable climate, things like, oh, I don’t know, taking action to reduce ozone smog…..

Here are more results from the Reuters/Ipsos/Stanford poll:

  • The percentage of Americans who are certain that warming has been happening has also climbed, from 45% to 53%.
  • However, those who do not believe in global warming have become more resolute in their attitude….
  • A large majority (71%) believe that if warming has been happening, it has been caused either partly (45%) or mostly (27%) by things people have been doing. 27% believe warming to be the result of natural causes.
  • Looking forward, a large majority of Americans (72%) expect the world’s temperature to continue rising over the next 100 years if nothing is done to prevent it. Here too, Democrats are much more likely to believe in global warming’s continued impact (88%) compared to Republicans (57%) or Tea Party members (49%)

Finally, the issue of global warming is important to a large fraction of Americans:

So the issue is a winning one and crucial to our future.  Now all we need is a president who believes in “winning the future.”  Any takers?

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40 Responses to Public Opinion Stunner: More Americans Understand World is Warming — Thanks to Rick Perry, Reports Reuters

  1. Wonhyo says:

    So the issue is a winning one and crucial to our future. Now all we need is a president who believes in “winning the future.” Any takers?

    Apparently, Jon Huntsman is the only 2012 presidential candidate who is willing to talk about climate change.

    For those for whom talking about climate change is an important characteristic in a president, Jon Huntsman looks like a better choice than Obama. How sad for the Democratic Party.

    Will a candidate (other than Hunstman) who has the moral courage to talk about this important issue please enter the race?

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    must see interview with Naomi of Merchants of Doubt…

    Interview: Naomi Oreskes and the Merchants of Doubt

  3. This sounds good, but remember 2010: our benevolent elders voted for the GOP because they thought them the better custodians of Social Security and Medicare.

    Nobody dumber than people.

  4. It is easy for candidates to talk about climate change. Candidate Bush promised to regulate carbon dioxide. Candidate Obama promised go big on climate. The brass ring however will go to whichever President actually pushes through a price on carbon. That party will likely own the climate issues and climate voters from then on.

  5. Ben Lieberman says:

    It makes sense in a perverse way. Increasingly many media sources will not cover climate change either because they no longer consider it news or because they’ve decided to cover both sides, but with a denier running for President political reporters, most of whom don’t show any interest in the environment, now have reason to report Perry’s comments.

  6. Jon says:

    Certainly the GOP candidate next year is unlikely to be promising to regulate emissions from power plants, a la Bush trying to blunt Gore’s advantage on the issue, let alone presenting themselves as someone committed to doing something about climate change, as McCain did in 2008.

    I’d be more impressed with Huntsman if he actually proposed to do something about the problem he acknowledges exists. At least with Obama, I’m fairly certain he would do something if by some miracle he got reelected along with a large Democratic majority in the house and an overwhelming advantage in the Senate as well. The something would probably be nowhere near equal to the enormity of the problem but it would be more than nothing. With the current political paralysis, I’m not confident the US will do anything effective until Nature stops fiddling around with merely burning large swaths of Texas and moves on to burning the whole thing (or at least those parts thereof still wet enough to be capable of supporting plant life).

  7. john atcheson says:

    I think the tendency to ascribe changes in public attitudes to the political process is an example of “pundit think.”

    Frankly, I think the reason for the change is much simpler:
    It’s so friggin’ hot, there’s so many fires, there’s a lot of droughts, floods, record storms etc.

    In short, the proof is in the climate, not the pronouncements of politicians.

    And the climate is speaking with great clarity and volume on the subject than any politician could.

  8. Obviously most Americans will come around to seeing fossil fuel climate pollution as a threat to their future. The laws of physics will ensure that soon enough.

    The GOP are definitely threatened by aggressively spouting a single message that says “do nothing about extreme weather despite what 98% of scientists are telling us.”

    It is hard to imagine a more callous image for voters to mull over than Governor Perry saying climate change is a hoax and nothing should be done about it except cutting funds to volunteer fire fighters when the people of his own state are reeling in ground zero “hell” of global warming. Self-emasculating even.

    But before Democrats celebrate I think they need to seriously consider the long-term political threat that a shift public perception brings to their own serial inaction on climate. I’d love to see a poll of how Americans would respond to a hypothetical of a GOP President passing a carbon tax. Every thinking GOP strategist has to be working on a plan to get rid of this climate liability as public perceptions eventually shift. You can bet Hunstman and Romney teams are looking at these scenarios.

  9. prokaryotes says:

    Roundup of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, after a short intro with extra special part about how the denier industry evolved since they lied to us about tabbacco

  10. In the world of post-reality political messaging it would take about two seconds for the GOP spin doctors to “re-frame” their decade of anti-climate-science obstruction and denial into a “principled” effort to prevent a Democratic big government bureaucratic disaster that wouldn’t have even solved the problem but would have trashed the economy. They then tie their carbon tax to massive tax cuts and bingo “Nixon goes to China.” The conservative media would have a field day parroting the talking points ad nauseam.

    The shifting of public opinion towards the climate threat is exactly the point of greatest political danger to BOTH parties.

    Obama needs to act forcefully on climate or risk ceding the issue of the century to the GOP.

  11. Buzz Belleville says:

    McCain promoted the exact same cap-and-trade system Obama did … then he rejected it when he returned to the Senate. At least the worst we could say about Obama is that he didn’t push it hard enough, not that he opposed it. Of course, the other point this highlights is that we need to carefully differentiate between what candidates say and what they will actually do. I plan on not being fooled again (chackle, chuckle).

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Army Corps of Engineers estimates it will cost more than $2 billion to repair the damage to the nation’s levees, dams and riverbanks caused by this year’s excessive flooding, a sum that dwarfs $150 million it currently has to make such repairs and that doesn’t account for damage from Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee.

    Floodwaters that raged down the nation’s rivers this year have strained dams, eroded riverbanks, filled harbors with silt and ripped football field-sized holes in some earthen levees protecting farmland and small towns. The damage estimate, confirmed Thursday to The Associated Press by corps officials, promises to be more significant than with a typical flood in which high water recedes quickly.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    ” The estimate does not factor in flood damage caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and the corps does not have an estimate of the damage from those storms yet. “

  14. Buzz Belleville says:

    Interesting comment. Presupposes that they (the GOP) actually understand that there’s a political advantage to be had there and, more importantly, that their climate change denialism is grounded more in political opportunism than in ideological denialism … and I’m not sure that’s right for Perry or Bachman or Santorum or Paul(probably more political opportunism for Newt, Romney and Huntsman).

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Quick Thought And Proposed Guest Post

    If President Obama wants to be able to claim that he’s genuinely concerned about climate change and the environment, and serious about those things, he will have to avoid the deeply confused and confusing mixed messages such as the message he’ll be sending if he approves Keystone XL.

    I’ve just finished a proposed guest post and I’ll send it to you, Joe, for your consideration a bit later today.

    Be Well,


  16. Joe Romm says:

    Actually, the best social science research I am aware of says that it is media coverage — and elite cues from people in your party — that drives public opinion. A major study on this will be coming out shortly.

  17. Mike#22 says:

    Some of the opinion shift could be caused by information about Texas On Fire getting through the crappy media, or even just around it through social networks. The drought monitor looks worse than ever. and the old trees keep dying.

    A better use for transcontinental pipelines is to supply Texas with water, not oil.

  18. Mimikatz says:

    Exxon Mobil clearly believes the Arctic will remain sufficiently ice free to warrant a huge investment in oil drilling there. The followers may be deniers because of ideological reasons(i.e. they don’t want to see big government) but for the leaders and the big polluters it is all based on expediency. They know it is happening.

  19. Gestur says:

    To the extent that this increase in poll support for global warming can be attributed to the Republican debates—clearly just an untested hypothesis, indeed one you will never ever be able to test—I don’t necessarily see it as all that strange. The current thinking on why people don’t believe in scientific facts is, of course, that prior beliefs have a strong impact on how we process newly presented facts.

    Quoting Chris Mooney in a recent Mother Jones piece (“The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science”) on this very issue:

    “Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction. …

    You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

    I’d say that the mere fact that another Republican—as opposed to a Democrat or environmentalist—was challenging Perry may well have represented this apparently critical “context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction” for some who were watching these debates.

  20. Doug Bostrom says:

    I think I said (big deal, huh?) somewhere (here?) that Perry would essentially force both the media and many voters to choose sides in this matter. Clearly the media has; portrayals of Perry’s combined attitude on evolution and climate science (basic physics, actually) put him solidly in the deep fringe.

  21. dick smith says:

    I’m pleased, but not stunned by this one. Once Huntsman publicly disagreed with Perry it was obvious the media would have to explain which one of them was right. They could not just let it pass. I think I commented here on the delightful irony of how helpful Perry’s comments would be.

    More importantly, I strongly agree with the comments (above) that Obama and other Democrats can continue to exploit this issue. Sadly, I think they’re too timid and poor at messaging to do it.

  22. John Mashey says:

    1) Jon Krosnick: I’ve met him and heard him talk a few times. He’s good.

    2) Is Huntsman positioning himself for 2016?

    3) If you were obama, who would you want the 2012 GOP candidate to be?

    4) Perry: see Rick Perry, Peter Wood and the blogosphere: Perry’s staff relies on quick Googles, apparently.
    Peter Wood is one of the more ill-informed commenters on climate.

  23. Elsie Nespor says:

    The great powers of the Roman Catholic Church insisted God said the Sun went around the Earth….For the belief many scientists were murdered by The Church. We all know now who was right…still, there are some who profit greatly from disregarding Science. Too bad the U. S. does not choose to use our incredibly talented scientists to save our planet. What is “believed” will not change what is real.

  24. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The graph at the end of the post showing polling of the importance people attach to global warming is worth re-assessing.

    Apart from some marginally hazy maths (no bias visible) the staff summing opinion either side chose to exclude the “Somewhat Important” numbers, and add the “Very I.” and “Extremely I.” in comparison with “Not That I.” and “Not At All I.”, to give the totals shown.

    Since “Somewhat Important” declares a clear degree of recognition of warming’s reality and relevance, I tried adding its polling onto the “Important” totals, with the surprising results as follows:

    . . . . . . . . .Totals. .Dem . .Repub. .T.Party

    Important . . . .70 . . .85 . . .52 . . .45
    Not Important .30 . . .13 . . .48 . . .55

    Ratio . . . . . . .7:3 . 13:2 . 13:12 . 9:11

    By this more precise evaluation, Republican opinion is split down the middle, 13 to 12, on the reality of Global Warming and its importance, while the Tea party itself is not much better decided at 9 to 11.

    This is so far from the standard projections that it makes an utter nonsense both of Republican candidates ‘being forced by their voters’ to deny Global Warming, and of Obama ‘being forced by the lack of voter support on Global Warming’ to censure the words from his vocabulary. Those positions are just political circus reflecting unspoken policy interests, nothing more.

    Barry’s good insight is relevant here : “The shifting of public opinion towards the climate threat is exactly the point of greatest political danger to BOTH parties.”

    While each party can choose which new bit of climate data they want to declare ‘has transformed the importance of the climate issue’ the timing is a lot more fraught for Obama than Perry/Romney. Obama not only has the Keystone permit looming, with his EPA obstructions still warm, he also has about 12 weeks until the Durban meeting of the UNFCCC, at which it is pretty much declared policy that the US intends to crush any successor to Kyoto, thereby robbing the UN process of what little momentum it’s retained for the essential binding commitments since Bush’s election and the Copenhagen fiasco.

    Trying to pivot after such an action would be more than ungainly – the rest of the world would have scant confidence in the good faith of any renewed US interest in negotiating an equitable and efficient treaty.

    Yet trying to pivot before that meeting would mean undercutting the 11-year-old adopted Bush policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction with China – long before it’s borne fruit.

    With the prospects for the US economy’s influence on the US election worsening by the week, and the prospect of an oil-price spike giving real pressure for Keystone’s approval, it may well be that the Whitehouse will hold its present course, since there is much that is unpredictable about changing it – and just hope that the US public will go back to sleep on the climate issue.

    If progressives and known scientists were now to focus on the science showing IPCC AR4 to be badly underestimating the threat, particularly our commitment to the three ‘pipeline’ warmings alongside the five accelerating interactive feedbacks, we could be confident that, with rising extreme weather impacts, the slide of public opinion into demanding commensuarate global action has begun.

    Yet with Obama evidently wedded to the status quo despite his declining re-election prospects, there remains a clear and growing need of a viable Democrat presidential candidate to promote and carry forward the policy changes.



  25. Peter Mizla says:

    The continuing array of disastrous weather events (all predicted by scientists) has the public wondering. Perhaps another couple of years with floods, droughts of biblical proportions, and a nearly ice free arctic will shake Americans out of their hazy inertia, and demand action.

  26. Ernest says:

    There’s a difference between vaguely “believing” in global warming and actually being willing shelve out money to help fix the problem (price on carbon, gasoline tax, …). The latter is a much harder political task.

    Jon Huntsman deserves credit for mentioning the “C” word more often than Obama at least of recent times. (On the other hand, he has very little to lose.) He deserves credit for bringing to the public’s attention the point of 97% vs 3% of climatologists believe in anthropogenic global warming, as well as the conclusion of the National Academy of Science. This is mainstream science. This helps expose the misleading “false balance”, “uncertain science” in other politically motivated media outlets. In the same breath, he also mentions “Evolution” and “Science”, raising the question of GOP’s ideologically motivated approach to “truth” vs. those who are actual professionals in their disciplines.

    Having said this, I do think Lewis’s analysis is excellent. I’m wary of reading too much into the polling data. However, my subjective sense is that Jon Huntsman, Perry (inadvertently), and the hot Texas extremes have nudged the issue forward, or at least has raised some questions in the public’s mind.

  27. john atcheson says:

    All things equal, I believe you’re right — opinion leaders shape many people’s opinion.

    But I do think there’s a reality threshold beyond which reality takes over, and I think we’ve hit that point.

    For proof, I give you my very conservative always Republican neighbor — the other day, apropos of nothing, he says to me, “You may be right about that global warming stuff — there’s too much weird stuff going on….” a comment echoed by my conservative cousin-in-law. Now I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but I’ve been hearing similar stuff from Fox News Junkies in my family for the last year, now.

    Ar some point, the senses overrule denialist BS. I think we’re there.

  28. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I hope you will be reporting that study Joe. I think the validity of its conclusions about the power of the media will depend on when the data was collected, if it’s USA data.

    The media has been the dominant influence in the past but since the rate of disasters has accelerated, almost everybody has been touched first hand by their effects. If the data was collected more than 12 months ago, before the recent spate of events in the US, it may have missed the point that John Atcheson is making, as others such as Carl S are also making in a posting below, ME

  29. Roger Shamel says:

    As others have said, climate change has the potential to be the defining issue of the 2012 election. We are near a tipping point.

    Those who are seriously concerned about our future have got to make it clear that we will do everything in our power to elect a climate-friendly president, and everything we can to defeat a climate crank, including it would seem, Barack Obama.

    My letters, emails and calls relating to this have already gone out to the White House, to Jon Huntsman, and to others.

    I’m also planning to return the Obama ’12 campaign material mailings I’ve received, by taking them in to the Boston Obama HQ soon.

    Fool me once, Obama, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Climate change isn’t negotiable, and it should not be for sale!

  30. John Mason says:

    John, that’s very interesting. I too suspect that reality thresholds occur, beyond which the deniers continue making their noise but become increasingly marginalised.

    The trouble is that once several more of them have been reached and passed, we will all be in big trouble climate-wise compared to the present situation.

    I often wonder if successive public backlashes are likely if that occurs. I would imagine so. It’s entirely possible that the denial in GOP ranks may lead to them becoming completely unelectable within a decade or two.

    Too simple a scenario? Time will be the judge on that one.

    Cheers – John

  31. Ed hodder says:

    It’s not all good. The ratios of Republicans and Independents who believe “global warming is partly or mostly caused by things people do” have dropped year over year. I don’t have time right now to dig into this deeper but to some extent more people agree it got hot but not about why it got hot which would mean the needle hasn’t moved that much.

    See the full study @

  32. ThisOldMan says:

    Please state your evidence. I personally think apathetic nonvoters had a lot more influence on the outcome of the 2010 elections.

  33. ThisOldMan says:

    I think the price of gas is going to go through the sky before people start to get scared by what’s happening to the climate. When that happens the republicans might just win another round by crying “Drill Baby Drill”. Of course that won’t solve the problem, which will devastate the economy. If about that time the climate really begins to go haywire too, nobody can predict the political consequences. The tea party fanatics might even take over using their beloved guns. Like the Nazis did in Germany.

  34. Joe Romm says:

    Dropped slightly — within the margin of error. The Gallup poll at the end found the opposite.


    “Voters over 65 favored Republicans last week by a 21-point margin after flirting with Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections and favoring John McCain by a relatively narrow 8-point margin in 2008.”

  36. Mike Roddy says:

    Media coverage of global warming has often been nonexistent or horrible. They have not been called to account. McKibben and friends should turn their attention to this negligence, which has had disastrous consequences.

    Andy Revkin is going to be in our new 15 Climate Villains installment. Vacillators with undeserved credibility can do more damage than the James Inhofes and Joe Bastardis.

  37. Mike Roddy says:

    Or too bought themselves.

  38. Pangolin` says:

    Seconded. The Democratic Leadership Council has shown little inclination to act on climate change other than to put up a token subsidy for wind turbines and solar panels.

    Actual, effective action on climate change will look more like WWII total economic mobilization if it ever happens. At this rate it will never happen or happen far after it’s too late and our doom is sealed.

  39. Wonhyo says:

    It took me a while to make this realization because it is so sad…

    Is it now fair to say Rick Perry (with Jon Huntsman’s help) has done more to raise awareness of climate change than President Obama has done?

  40. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Ernest – my thanks for the compliment.

    The fact that republican opinion is split down the middle on AGW is significant, but I’d well agree that the positive fraction is nowhere near committed enough to empower the necessary degree of reform. (As is also the case with democrat opinion thus far).

    Recognizing AGW as being “somewhat important” doesn’t get much done in terms of cutting US per capita emissions by ~80% to equal those of China – let alone funding the steady recovery of US historic emissions by afforestation for sequestration, energy & soil fertility. There is thus a clear need to switch effort from trying to answer the (17%) deniers to strengthening the (83%) accepters’ commitment by laying out both the real scale of the threat and of its necessary resolution.

    Yet the reality of broadly bipartisan public acceptance of AGW does already provide a basis for a political pivot, by the fact that publicizing well-evidenced frightening NAS info from a political platform, along with a coherent and attractive plan of action, could generate a very potent wave of broad-based electoral support.

    However the political establishment is plainly committed to an unspoken bipartisan support for the climate policy of a ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ with China, that was imposed by Bush and has been rigorously enforced by Obama.

    Awakening public demand for action would make that policy untenable, leaving the US govt facing both massive public demand, and the fact that the only available deal (from India, Africa, Europe, China, Brazil, Australia, etc) is an equitable and efficient binding treaty whereby all nations’ declining emission entitlements progress over time to per capita parity, eased by the sale of entitlement by those nations with a surplus to those stressed by the rate of their emissions cuts.

    This position might just encourage Romney to try a pivot (rather than merely flirting with informed GOP votes) but he’d arouse the full potent fury of the far right in doing so, making it rather unlikely before he’d got the candidacy, and pretty dicey thereafter.

    Obama faces rather greater problems with such a pivot, in that he’s not only estranged his base and gained heavy personal antipathy across the GOP, he’d also face both the opportunism slur and the tacit admission of failure to act on what is suddenly declared a priority issue (i.e. Ozone, GHGs, Keystone, Durban, etc). He could shift, but, in appointing Daley as CoS, I’d lay odds he won’t do more than a glossy token effort on climate for the “better that the other guy” promos.

    All of which indicates that if a rational climate policy is to arise from the election, then it will be carried by someone without Obama’s political baggage, and without Romney’s vulnerability to the far right. In short, by a viable democrat politician who can win the presidential candidacy from Obama on social, economic and environmental issues, and can present a sufficiently responsible profile to attract both independent and dissenting republican votes in the election.

    So the key question is whether there is the spirit rising among dissenting voters to find and successfully promote such a candidate ?