22 October 2009

Public Opinion Realities

UPDATE: Jon Krosnick doesn't believe it:
Since 1997, the percentage of Americans that believe the Earth is heating up has remained constant — at around 80 percent — in polling done by Jon Krosnick of Stanford University. Krosnick, who has been conducting surveys on attitudes about global warming since 1993, was surprised by the Pew results.

He described the decline in the Pew results as "implausible," saying there is nothing that could have caused it.
A new poll is out by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that indicates that the public is losing steam on the issue of climate change, but nonetheless, favors action to address accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Once again we have solid evidence that there is plenty of political will for action even if not everyone thinks alike on the issue.

Only 18% of Republicans and only 50% of Democrats think that recent warming is because of human activity, as shown in the following chart. the data indicates that advocates should be well past time trying to get everyone to a single view on the scientific aspects of climate change. It just is not going to happen.
Remarkably, only liberal Democrats have shown an increase in concern on the issue, as shown below. meanwhile, it has become of diminishing seriousness for just about every other group of Democrats. What this means is that continued efforts to intensify concern over global warming could have the effect of turning this issue into a being perceived solely as a liberal cause (more so than it is already perceived to be) and alienate the rest of the voting populace, the vast majority of which do not consider themselves to be liberal Democrats.
One reason to stop focusing on what people think about the science of climate change is that a majority of the public supports action on emissions (shown below) and well as international cooperation on climate change (not shown). The policy challenge is thus to design policies that can be effective given the strong political support that has existed on this topic for some time. The realities are that support is about as strong as it is likely to be, and really hasn't changed much over a decade or longer. Efforts to make climate change a top line issue will inevitably backfire. For some these facts may be frustrating, but they are the reality of the issue.


  1. Roger,

    1) I don’t trust Pew.

    2) Pew claims that a mere 50% favor “carbon emissions limits”.

    Sorry, but it takes something OVER 50% to claim that:

    “a majority of the public supports action on emissions”

    For the sake of accuracy, I respectfully recommend that you revise your comment.

    3) IF even 50% favor regulating CO2, it only shows that:

    A) the public have been propagandized by a media which does not even attempt to disguise their role as propagandists.

    B) the public needs to be better educated.

    C) the same propagandizing media have hidden from the public -- just as the Obama administration attempted to hide from the public -- the COSTS which THEY WILL BEAR under this sheer folly and sheer lunacy.

    D) even fewer have the foggiest notion what the real endgame is -- the exact same endgame as so-called health care “reform”.

  2. Addendum to my previous comment respectfully recommending that Roger revise his comment…

    Pew states:

    “Despite the growing public skepticism about global warming, the survey finds more support than opposition for a policy to set limits on carbon emissions.”

    That statement is consistent with the alleged polling results (wherein a mere 50% were found to favor emissions limits).

  3. Regarding support for "action": does that mean that there is support for shutting down coal mines and coal-burning power plants? Or Support for a gas tax increase that would bite enough to cut driving significantly and force people into smaller vehicles - like $2/gal.?

    There's little sense in saying that people favor action unless that action is spelled out for them before they are asked. And any actions that do not bite in such a way will have no effect on CO2 output.

    If the Chinese and Indians are not going to cut emissions, then the United States would have to go virtually pre-industrial to keep CO2 levels down in the long run.

  4. Amongst people who believe that there is solid evidence of anthropogenic warming, only 74% favor limits on emissions versus 50% amongst the population at large.

    That's pretty remarkable.

    I'd be interested in the splits on:

    1. people not convinced about anthropogenic warming who nontheless want caps on emissions and:

    2. people convinced about anthropogenic warming who oppose caps on emissions.

    Did they release this data?

  5. Well...I dont know about "not trusting" Pew, but the way they worded the question on Carbon emission limits isn't ideal.

    "Do you favor or oppose setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices?"

    Were I running this survey I'm pretty sure I'd cut out the "and making companies pay for their emissions" because it changes the question. After all, it says we will "make companies pay" which will elicit certain reactions from some people. Likewise were a question to be worded thusly, "Would you support policies that forced you to pay for your carbon footprint?" I'll bet the response would be less supportive.

    I believe the wording of the question explains the inconsistent responses in the poll where only 18% of Republicans say human activity is causing warming yet double that (36%) want carbon limits. (Numbers for Dems 50% to 58%, Indys 33% to 51%.)

    For that reason I think this poll is telling us support for carbon policies is tepid at best. (Especially as everyone was asked if they support International or Domestic standards on "climate change" - even those who don't believe it is happening. Only 1/10 of respondents who didn't think we are warming volunteered that the Standards question was moot as a result.)

  6. Roger,

    The problem with your last paragraph is "The policy challenge is thus to design policies that can be effective..."

    Fear of dwindling support will cause politicians to speed through any old policy train wreck while there's still time. Effectiveness won't matter, as long as they can earn some kudos and maybe land some pork before the public turns on the issue completely. If we shouldn't be worried about people's perception of the science, then we may as well just throw in with Joe Romm and back the Cap and Trade fiasco.

  7. Someone should send this pole over the the folks at Real Climate and Climate Progress. Their sites are set up for "preaching to the choir". It looks like the choir might soon be singing to an empty church.

  8. Funny I keep reading liberals complaining about the conservative media and conservatives complaining about the liberal media. I suppose that fits well with the right wingers complaining about a socialist Obama and socialists complaining about him being a right winger. You can sum up the poll results as right wingers not liking taxes and left wingers not trusting big business. So who needed a poll?

  9. -5-The Iconic Midwesterner,

    I think you just demonstrated our shared mistrust of Pew (and why that mistrust is justified). ;-)

  10. -4- Jason asked:

    "I'd be interested in the splits on:

    "1. people not convinced about anthropogenic warming who nontheless want caps on emissions and:

    "2. people convinced about anthropogenic warming who oppose caps on emissions.

    "Did they release this data?"

    This survey was not set up to give those type of crosstabs. (You can see the detailed tables here: http://people-press.org/reports/tables/556.pdf)

    Generally in these broad based surveys the crosstabs are only set to give info about demographic categories (age, race, party ID, etc.) Issue specific polls will occasionally pull out all the stops and offer internal crosstabs, but not the Pew.

  11. Jason S is on the money.

    These poll results are odd. They clearly don't add up.

    Nonetheless it's hard to imagine they are all wrong. With this level of support it's also hard to imagine that next year, in an election year that something remotely tough will be pushed.

  12. This is a head-scratcher for me:

    According to the results of Q43 of the Pew Poll, of the people who think humans are causing a warming, 97% think that this presents at least a somewhat serious problem. Of the people who think that natural cycles are causing a warming, 65% think that it is at least somewhat of a problem.

    And yet, according to a paper by Axford et al. in this week's PNAS, without a human-caused warming, the earth would be cooling off and on its way to the next ice age.

    Given that ice age climates represent a certain detriment to our health and welfare, why are so many people (or at least a high percentage of the ones contacted by Pew) so down on a human-caused warming? I would have thought that more than 3% of the people wouldn't have perceived it as much of a problem. Perhaps I am more "out there" than I thought!


  13. The views of people being asked general questions about vague policies without costs spelled out are completely meaningless. How 'bout we ask this question -- Are you willing to see your gas costs rise by $2 per gallon and see several million Americans lose their jobs in order to slow down carbon dioxide emissions, even if it will make no meaningful difference to the planet?

    If you get 55% or more for that one, you have a mandate.

  14. -9- SBVOR

    "I think you just demonstrated our shared mistrust of Pew (and why that mistrust is justified). ;-)"

    Actually, this just means I see a lot of bad polls. ;-)

    Honestly, I do not see this as an attempt to "prime" a response. I just see it as a crappy question, which is all too common an occurance across the industry. Also, because polls like this are tracking these responses over time they are less likely to want to change the question in the future because that would invalidate comparisons with earlier polling. So once a poorly worded question gets asked its hard to get rid of it.

  15. I've had two experiences with Pew, one with a group that tried very very hard to be neutral and objective, and it was a great experience in public policy analysis and development.
    The second experience is with a group funded by Pew that uses their name, that is interested in "issue advocacy" and makes untrue and misleading statements to the press and others in the interests of "issue advocacy".
    Based on these experiences, I'd say it's hard to know what you're going to get from Pew (like the Forrest Gump box of chocolates).

  16. -12-Chip sez :

    “according to a paper by Axford et al. in this week's PNAS, without a human-caused warming, the earth would be cooling off and on its way to the next ice age”

    While I agree with Chip’s overall comment, I want to correct two misconceptions embedded in that one quote.

    1) Rather than directly address Chip’s quote, let me quote two other sources and address those quotes:

    A) The study abstract sez:

    “The early Holocene and the warmest part of the Last Interglacial (Marine Isotope Stage or MIS 5e) were the only periods of the past 200,000 years with summer temperatures comparable to or exceeding today's at this site.”

    B) Physorg.com sez:

    “A University of Colorado at Boulder-led analysis of a 200,000 year-old sediment core from a Baffin Island lake indicates warming temperatures in the Arctic due to human activity are overriding a natural cooling trend in the region.”

    2) Before I comment, I want to refer to my chart and the associated post documenting an on-going, unbroken 10,000 year cooling trend on the Greenland ice sheet.

    First, I want to say that, while both are useful in their own ways, I find ice core data far more accurate and insightful than sediment core studies.

    Now, for the meat of the matter:

    A) In the quote from the abstract, it all depends on what the meaning of “early” is.

    In my chart, we have to go back 2,017 years to find a period warmer than today. But, we can also see at least 11 periods in the last 10,000 years which were warmer than today.

    Additionally, we can clearly see that:

    i) There is nothing even remotely unusual about the latest warming cycle.

    ii) The warming at the time of the climatic optimum (aka hypsithermal) was substantially steeper and taller than the more recent recovery from the prolonged Little Ice Age.

    B) The quote from Physorg.com is -- regrettably -- mildly typical of recent hysteria mongering over a recent warming that is not even remotely unusual relative to the last 10,000 years.

    The comment also perpetuates the MYTH that the latest warming represents an end to 10,000 years of cooling. It does NOT. It is merely the latest warming cycle in an on-going, UNBROKEN 10,000 year cooling trend in a region which is NATURALLY prone to more prolonged warming AND cooling cycles than, say, Vostok.

    C) I can happily note that neither quote perpetuates the myth that we are overdue for the next glacial period. We are -- most likely -- about 50,000 years away from that catastrophe.

  17. Very informative post.

    Political-Economy is moving in your science direction.

  18. #11:

    I'm not saying that I think the results are wrong. It would not surprise me if these results are correct.

    But I think we could learn a great deal from breaking down the decision making process (on emissions reduction) of these two groups.

    I suspect that this is very much an issue on which the public can be moved, and that Roger is right: beliefs about the science are not the prime movers.

  19. -14-Iconic Midwesterner,

    Do you really think “a crappy question” is not created by design?

    Have you not noticed more than a little Leftist affiliation with Pew?

    Surely, you’re not that naïve! Or, are you?

  20. Krosnick might introduce his bias because he believes that the story is not two sided but one sided. Or that he doesn't see the nuances that you see. I believe that the worst possible outcomes warrant some mitigation but current tech does not scale to really address the problem.

  21. The interesting results for me in this survey data is something I see replicated in other survey data elesewhere, as well as anecdotally.

    The proportion of people will be willing to support (costly) policy in the form of regulation or tax upon themselves is higher than the proportion of people who believe there is a policy problem to address.

    I find that irrational.

  22. -19- SBVOR

    "Do you really think “a crappy question” is not created by design?"

    Barring a smoking gun memo or a confession of wrong doing I don't believe *I* can determine the motivations of the question writer(s). Besides, it isn't important or necessary to attack feared ideological motives, when the question is "How well does this poll measure the public attitudes in question?" On the basis of that question alone there is enough reason to take some of these results with a grain of salt.

    I'll add, overall I've had fewer problems with Pew. They always release their complete questionnaire, you always know what their raw numbers are, and they dont hide their crosstabs behind a pay wall. For someone looking at survey research I can't ask for more then that.

  23. Roger, please forgive me for 'focusing on what people think about the science of climate change' but do you know of a poll that gives the percentage of Americans who totally reject the possibility of anthropogenic global warming? I spent a few hours last week looking for one and drew a blank.

    The Pew polls are no help. Their 'Mostly because of natural patterns in the earth’s environment' tallies (which, incidentally, their tables misrepresent by omitting the 'mostly') will include some people who totally reject AGW and others who accept the scientific essentials but reckon natural factors are more important. Even Pew's 'No solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades' tallies might include one or two people who, say, accept the science and think that there probably has been warming but don't trust the measurements, or even think that anthropogenic warming has been cancelled by natural cooling. Pew's questions weren't designed to identify out-and-out 'deniers'.

    Polls by Rasmussen and others were similarly unhelpful. Gallup did a 'world poll' on the perceived causes of global warming (people who said they knew 'something or a great deal' about global warming were asked if it was man-made, natural or both) but unfortunately they didn't ask this in America (or Britain).

    Any pointers gratefully received.

  24. -23-VB

    This is a bit dated, but might have what you are looking for:


  25. -24-RP

    Thanks. (That was quick!) The 'Not at all serious' responders probably equate pretty well with out-and-out AGW 'deniers'. It would be nice if a poll asked the question baldly, though. Something like, 'Do you think that human activities (such as the burning of fossil fuels) force average global temperatures upwards?' But I'm probably asking for too much.

  26. Meanwhile in another Pew poll, the number of Independents has risen to become the dominant group. Looks like the rank and file are finally fed up of Dems playing 'change=no-change' and the GOP playing 'hunt the phantom commies'.

  27. -26-jgdes,

    It is good to know that my ranks are swelling.

    I am a lifelong registered Independent.

    To me, the GOP is merely the lesser of two evils.

    This link represents my views rather well.

  28. SBVOR
    Ah a fellow independent! The real bondage you should fear though is from Wall Street, not socialists. Here's a link to Alexander Cockburn's speech at the Future of Freedom Foundations conference, where at the 7 minute mark he talks about the clear common goals of libertarians and the left; antiwar, pro civil liberties and pro-freedom. Yes pro-freedom!

    As far as I can see from reading both groups quite lucid writings for a while (both predicted this downturn) the only real difference is that the left demand a social safety net whereas libertarians suddenly discover they want it after becoming uninsurable and unemployable.

    Socialism means different things on opposite sides of the pond. While to most Americans it is akin to communism, for Europeans it merely stands for equal rights to decent health, education and public transport. Nobody is planning a Marxist takeover. That's just media inanity.

  29. -28-jgdes sez:

    “The real bondage you should fear though is from Wall Street, not socialists.”

    You’re dead wrong. Without government complicity, Wall Street can do me no harm (unless I allow them to of my own free will).

    There is little in this world -- other than Obama and crew -- which I have more contempt for than Euro-Socialism.