GHG Daily Monitor Vol. 1 No. 231
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December 16, 2016

Public Perception of Climate Change Similar at Beginning of Obama, Trump Presidencies

By Abby Harvey

In 2008, as Barack Obama prepared for his first term in office as president, 82 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 55 percent of Republicans believed the planet was warming. Now, eight years later and with a vastly different president-elect about to take office, 82 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans believe that the planet is warming, according to the results of a biannual survey conducted by researchers at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

The survey was launched in 2008. While there are have been significant fluctuations, the results are startlingly similar for 2016 and 2008. A breakdown of the number of participants for the most recent survey was not available at press time, but past surveys have had between 700 and 950 participants.  “We’ve ended up eight years later from when we were doing this survey with almost identical numbers,” Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said during a presentation Thursday at the Wilson Center.

All told in 2008, 72 percent of Americans believed there was “solid evidence” of global warming, 17 percent were skeptical, and 11 percent were not sure. The most recent round of polling done for the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE), completed just prior to the election of Republican and sometimes climate change denier Donald Trump, found little change. As of fall 2016, 70 percent of Americans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, 17 percent are skeptical, and 13 percent are not sure.

“While it is important to note that while there were significant shifts of public opinion regarding global warming in the years between these elections, particularly during a dramatic decline in acceptance during 2009 and 2010, Obama and Trump will have arrived in the Oval Office with remarkably similar public views on the existence of climate change,” Borick said in a blog post Thursday.

The survey also found that citizens’ confidence in their stances on climate change has grown stronger over the years, no matter their position. “For example, in 2008 only 58 percent of those that thought temperatures on the planet were increasing were very confident in their position on the matter, compared to 71 percent today,” the blog post says.

Climate skeptics are less confident in their skepticism, though that confidence is growing. “In 2016, a record 59 percent of this group state that they are ‘very confident’ that there is not solid evidence of increasing global temperatures. These findings may suggest that many Americans may have immovable

The survey did not initially measure climate skeptics’ confidence, but the earliest notation in fall 2010 concluded that only 34 percent of climate skeptics were very confident that there was not solid evidence of global warming at that time.

The results of a similar study conducted in Canada were also shared at the Wilson Center on Thursday. When asked if there is solid evidence of global warming, “Canadians are significantly more likely than Americans, which isn’t a surprise, it’s like that every year, to answer yes,” Lachapelle, an assistant political science professor at the University of Montreal, said at the event.

According to Lachapelle’s study, 86 percent of Canadians believe there is solid evidence that the planet has been warming for the past several decades. Only 10 percent of Canadians do not believe the planet is warming. The remaining 4 percent are uncertain.

Canadians are less like to say they feel very confident in their beliefs on the matter, Lachapelle said. “In the United States believers are more confident in their beliefs and that’s kind of interesting, but I do want to point out two things here. First is that there are more believers in Canada and so that might explain why there are less people that are very confident because there are more believers. Also, I don’t know, I’m speculating here, but Canadians tend to be less assertive, or that’s how we like to think about Canadians, so that could be reflected here,” he said.

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