More Americans Now Believe Climate Change is Real

At least 70 percent of Americans now believe that global warming during the last 40 years is real and supported by solid evidence, coinciding with the lowest percentage of Americans who doubt climate change, according to a new poll released this week.

Even more startling: the survey also found a dramatic drop during the past year in the number of self-identified Republicans who doubt the existence of climate change, from 41 percent last fall to 26 percent now.

“The big shift here is amongst Republicans, and it is a huge one,” said Barry Rabe, professor of public policy and environmental policy at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the poll. “Most survey work has found a gaping divide between self-identified Democrats and Republicans on this issue for many years now. This suggests that those differences still persist, but have declined significantly. We did not anticipate this.”

The finding that 70 percent of Americans support the evidence of climate change represents the second-highest level in the history of the survey, which is conducted twice annually — in the spring and fall — by the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment. The current number is only a slight dip from the 72 percent recorded in 2008, which then likely was “a response to the perception of weather or weather experiences, and before there was a campaign to challenge proposed climate change policies,” Rabe said. “But then it began to drop almost immediately.”

Moreover, a record low number of Americans doubt the evidence of climate change, with only 16 percent now holding this view, and a majority of Republicans (56 percent) support the evidence behind global warming for the first time since 2008, when 55 percent of GOP responders believed climate change was real. Less surprising, strong majorities of Democrats (79 percent) and Independents (69 percent) continue to believe there is solid evidence of global warming.

Compared to the drop in doubt among Republicans, only six percent fewer Democrats and four percent fewer Independents called themselves doubters; the relatively lower drop among Democrats and Independents may be in part due to their already low levels of doubt, according to the survey.

In previous surveys, large majorities of American who doubted the existence of climate change said they felt that way because of local weather observations. This time, however, more than a third (34 percent) of the doubters said that local weather had “no effect” on their views, which represents the highest percentage since these surveys began in 2008.

The questions in this survey asked whether Americans believe there is solid evidence that average temperatures on Earth have been getting warmer during the last four decades, and how confident they were of their decision. They also asked about factors that have influenced their position, such as drought, declining glaciers and polar ice, as well as extreme weather events, such as major storms and floods, among others.

They did not ask whether human activities — such as fossil fuel burning — were responsible for climate change, or about policy questions and mitigation strategies.

“We are asking the same questions to a large diverse survey of Americans, and [these findings] suggest there is some expansion in the base of Americans who see this pattern and affirm it,” says Barry Rabe, professor of public policy and environmental policy at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the poll. “This does not necessarily mean that all of these people accept the idea that there is human causation behind it, and still others might say, ‘yes, this is happening, but there is nothing we can do about it.’ But it does suggest a deeper recognition of a pattern and a deeper recognition of a problem.”

Based on an article by Marlene Cimons, published