Friday, March 16, 2012

US Environmental Attitudes 2007 - 2012

What kind of attitude changes have we witnessed in America in the last five years? During this time we have experienced the worst recession since the great depression, but what has happened to US attitudes on the environment? Surveys reveal some very interesting points.

A 2008 survey was conducted by public affairs assistant professor David Konisky. He surveyed 1,000 adults about their attitudes toward the environment. The 2012 study was commissioned by the Brookings Institution, and the survey was conducted by the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. The phone survey sampled the opinions of 887 US residents.

In the 2012 poll Americans indicate they are increasingly convinced of the veracity of climate change. According to the poll data, 62 percent of Americans accept the fact that global warming is real.

This is very much like the conclusion of the 2008 survey which indicated that the awareness of global warming is on the rise. Participants were asked to characterize their overall concern for the environment, and data indicated that 70 percent of respondents characterized themselves as being concerned about the environment.

The Brookings study revealed that people are more convinced by their own experience of extreme weather rather than a scientific review of the facts. Almost half of Americans polled who accepted global warming said that they were primarily convinced by their own personal observations of local temperature anomalies.

Similarly, Konisky’s study found that the public is most concerned about local and national issues that directly affect them.

In the 2008 study, political affiliation was the best predictor of individual preference toward the environment. With Democrats seeking more government action on the environment and Republicans seeking less.

In the 2012 study political affiliations were also the best predictor of attitude. While 80 percent of Democrats acknowledged the evidence for climate change, almost half (47 percent) of Republicans denied the science of global warming.

“The survey reinforced the stark differences in people’s environmental attitudes, depending on their political leaning,” Konisky said in 2008. “Democrats and political liberals clearly express more desire for governmental action to address environmental problems. Republicans and ideological conservatives are much less enthusiastic about further government intervention.”

A 2008 study by Pew Research Center corroborated these findings. According to the 2008 poll titled A Deeper Partisan Divide Over Global Warming the tendency to believe in global warming is related to political affiliation. Once again Democrats were much more likely to believe in global warming than Republicans.

The Pew study showed that from the beginning of 2007 to mid 2008 the number of Americans who believe the earth is warming has dropped. This was particularly true for Republicans. In January 2007, 62 percent accepted global warming, compared to just 49 percent 2008.

The Pew study further concludes that the tendency to believe in global warming is also related to the respodents level of education. The Konisky study made the point that social scientists have consistently found younger, better educated and politically liberal individuals are more likely to be more concerned about the environment.

Most interestingly the Pew study found that college was not enough to move Republicans to accept the veracity of anthropogenic global warming. Amongst college-educated poll respondents, 19 percent of Republicans believed that human activities are causing global warming, compared to 75 percent of Democrats. But take that college education away and Republican believers rise to 31 percent while Democrats drop to 52 percent.

Sadly, not much has changed in five years. Taken together these studies show that people are most preoccupied with things that they directly experience themselves. Perhaps most significantly they show that Republicans are still the biggest source of resistance to the facts on climate change.

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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