Apr 19, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Inside Americans' growing fear of a warm planet

Adapted from Climate Change in the American Mind; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from Climate Change in the American Mind; Chart: Axios Visuals

Newly released survey data shows an upward trend in concern about the effects of climate change over the last decade, even as public opinion lags behind the scientific consensus on human-caused warming.

The big picture: The 2008–2017 results from researchers with Yale and George Mason universities arrives as Democrats are emphasizing climate change in the 2020 election cycle more than prior contests.

What they found: Check out the chart above. It shows increases in concern, but also reveals that less than half of adults see climate change harming them personally.

  • That's despite scientific studies showing the effects of warming have already arrived in the form of more intense heat, more powerful storms, and extreme precipitation events.

The intrigue: The data also shows Republicans and Democrats view risk of harm quite differently.

  • On whether global warming will harm the U.S., huge majorities of Democrats hold that view in 2017, while that's true for only 32% of conservative Republicans and 55% of liberal-to-moderate Republicans.
  • Of note: The sample sizes on party ideological groupings are not huge.

By the numbers: The new survey data arrives with a helpful interactive tool that lets you browse all kinds of opinion and demographic data. Here are just few more snapshots from the wide-ranging survey...

  • Overall public acceptance that global warming is human-caused was 56% in 2017, underscoring the wide and persistent gulf with the longstanding scientific consensus.
  • Partisan gaps are immense and persistent on nearly every question.
  • 83% of liberal Democrats agreed warming is human-caused in 2017, compared to 28% of conservative Republicans (a number similar to a decade ago). Moderate-to-conservative Dems and liberal-to-moderate Republicans are at points in between.

Between the lines: The data also shows demographic divides within parties. Here's one of them.

  • "Millennial Republicans are more likely than older generations of Republicans to think global warming is happening and human-caused, understand that most scientists agree about human-caused global warming, and worry about global warming," notes an accompanying piece in the journal Environment.

Go deeper: The findings, which also delve into climate communication strategies, are published here.

Go deeper