Average Americans Not Alarmed over Climate

Published April 20, 2015

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ concerns about the environment are waning with safe drinking water topping their list of environmental concerns and climate change coming in dead last. Fifty-five percent of American’s reported “worrying a great deal” about the safety of drinking water compared to just 32 percent “worrying a great deal” about global warming.

Gallup’s Environment Survey has been conducted annually since 1989. The poll consisted of random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. This year’s poll, conducted between March 5 through 8, found overall Americans felt better about environmental problems in 2015 than they did in 2014.

Despite greater media and political attention being paid to climate change, fewer than 1/3 of Americans worry about climate change, “a great deal.” This is a drop from more than 40 percent of American’s who worried about climate change in 2007.

Gallup Analyst Jeffrey Jones reports, “Importantly, even as global warming has received greater attention as an environmental problem from politicians and the media in recent years, Americans’ worry about it is no higher now than when Gallup first asked about it in 1989.”

Distant Problems, Lower Concern

Jones believes the shift the environmental movement made from a focus on local, immediate environmental problems, to global, more distant in time issues may be the reason concern about the environment has declined, “The nature of the environmental agenda may indirectly be influencing Americans’ concern. The primary focus of the environmental movement has shifted toward long-term threats like global warming – issues about which Americans tend to worry less than about more immediate threats like pollution.”

Interestingly, despite the added attention paid to climate change by the Obama Administration and the media, only a bare majority of Democrats, 52 percent, are worried about warming, a number that has increased just 4 percent since 2000. By comparison, concern among Republican’s polled has fallen by 16 percent since 2000, from 29 percent worried then, to just 13 percent worried today.

Poll Results Reflect Common Wisdom

Merrill Mathews, resident scholar at the Dallas based Institute for Policy Innovation, is not surprised by Gallup’s poll results and argues the public is right to ignore the hype surrounding claims of impending climate disaster. “Thomas Jefferson believed that when you stated a problem to a ploughman and a professor, ‘the former will decide it often better than the later.’ Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts and millions of taxpayer dollars spent to convince us, the ‘ploughmen’ still have it right on climate change,” said Matthews. 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a research fellow on energy and the environment and managing editor of Environment & Climate News, at The Heartland Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research center based in Chicago, IL.