U.S. Public Opinion About Climate Change

Article ID: 8435

Released: 28-Jul-1998 12:00 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Resources for the Future (RFF)

  • Share

FOR EMBARGOED RELEASE Tuesday, July 28, 1998, 5 p.m.

Contact: Michael Tebo (202) 328-5019 tebo@rff.org

INDEPENDENT NATIONAL SURVEY GAUGES U.S. PUBLIC OPINION ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE

WASHINGTON, DC - The newly-released results of an independent national survey sponsored by Resources for the Future (RFF) confirm that most Americans believe global climate change is real and damaging and that the federal government should take significant steps to combat it.

But the findings also suggest that, despite public education campaigns in the Fall of 1997 about global warming by the White House and industry and environmental lobbying groups, as well as substantial coverage of the issue by the news media, neither side on this issue can claim many more supporters after the fall than before.

The chief effect of these campaigns and news coverage, the survey's findings indicate, was to deepen division in the American public along political party lines - more Democrats came to believe that global warming exists and will have undesirable consequences, while more Republicans came to believe that global warming is not a reality and will not have undesirable consequences.

The survey, conducted by researchers in Ohio State University's (OSU) Survey Research Unit, tracked American public opinion regarding global climate change both before and after the international climate agreement reached by negotiators in Kyoto, Japan, in December. OSU's Jon A. Krosnick, PhD, and Penny S. Visser, directors of the survey, presented their findings on July 28 at a public briefing held at RFF.

"We found that the fall debate on global warming served the constructive function of focusing public attention on the issue," Krosnick says. "The Clinton Administration's efforts on climate change, kicked off in October of last year, have been a remarkable example of the use of the 'bully pulpit' by a vigorous and popular president, actively supported by an unusually visible and popular vice president."

"However," Krosnick adds, "these efforts, coupled with hundreds of news stories and paid advertisements, did little to change the balance of Americans' belief about global warming, but rather crystallized people's opinions and increased the polarization of the issue along political lines."

In their survey, researchers asked a representative national sample of 687 American adults a number of questions related to beliefs and attitudes about global warming between September 1 and October 5, 1997, before the October 6 kick-off of the White House Initiative on Climate Change. The research team then interviewed another representative national sample of 725 adults between December 20, 1997 and February 13, 1998, after the creation of The Kyoto Protocol, which calls for many industrialized countries to reduce their total national emissions over the period 2008-2012 to an average of about five percent below 1990 levels. Interviews lasted an average of 40 minutes.

Some of the other primary findings of the survey are that:

People wanted governments, businesses, and the public to do quite a bit to combat global warming but believed very little was being done.

Widespread support was expressed for federal efforts to restrict air pollution, but public opinion indicated less willingness to pay higher utility bills to reduce air pollution after the fall than before.

One-third of the public thinks of global warming as an extremely or very serious problem for the country; 11 percent say the issue is extremely important to them personally.

The study was sponsored by RFF and funded by OSU, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The results of the study are detailed in the RFF report, The Impact of the Fall 1997 Debate About Global Warming on American Public Opinion. It can be downloaded on the internet at www.rff.org/misc_docs/osu_short.pdf.

# # #