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.