Poll: Americans Don’t Believe We Cause Warming

Published August 1, 2008

Fewer than half of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center believe humans are causing global warming, and a declining number even believe the Earth is experiencing a warming trend.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, finds “roughly half, or 47 percent, of Americans say the Earth is warming because of human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels.”

Nearly as many, 45 percent of respondents, contend the higher Earth temperatures are due to “natural environment patterns,” that no global warming exists, or that causes cannot be scientifically determined.

Seventy-one percent of Americans believe the Earth is warming, down from 77 percent of Americans who held that belief last year. The six percentage point drop parallels falling, and in some parts of the country, record-low, temperatures over the past year that continued a decade-long trend of temperatures remaining flat or falling.

Political Divide

The survey confirmed wide discrepancies in belief between Americans identifying themselves as Democrat or Republican.

Only 27 percent of Republicans surveyed believe humans are causing global warming. By contrast, 58 percent of Democrats blame global warming on humans.

Among Republicans, higher education brings even more skepticism. Pew reports “only 19 percent of Republican college graduates say that there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming and it is caused by human activity.” Higher education has the opposite effect on Democrats: 75 percent of Democrats with a higher education believe global warming is caused mostly by humans.

Big Government a Factor

Tom Kilgannon, president of the nonprofit Freedom Alliance, says the reasons for this partisan divide are simple.

“Those on the left are more likely to accept the global warming theory for two reasons,” Kilgannon said. “First, they tend to make public policy decisions based on emotion as a first reaction.”

And second, Kilgannon continued, global warming fits the usual Democrat call for bigger government.

“If they can convince the public that global warming exists, then the left can more easily further its mission of creating more government, particularly at the international level,” Kilgannon said. “What they want are more treaties, more international bureaucracy, and more authority in the hands of the United Nations.”

Science in Dispute

Republicans, meanwhile, are still asking some basic questions that were long ago dismissed by Democrats, such as determining whether “significant global warming [is] actually happening,” and if so, whether “climate changes [are] inherently bad,” noted Paul Teller, deputy director of the U.S. House Republican Study Committee, in an October 2007 policy brief, “Cap-and-Trade Proposals for Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

“The alarmists have overplayed their hand,” explained Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “They have warned that the sky is falling too many times, and people look around and see that all these ‘imminent’ crises are not materializing. It is the ‘boy who cried wolf’ syndrome. Now the alarmists are paying the price for too-often misrepresenting the effects of global warming.

“Perhaps the assertion that global warming was causing hurricanes seemed believable in 2005, but taking a step back from the immediacy of Katrina, people now realize the science says it isn’t true,” said Lewis. “In order to sell the global warming agenda, people like Al Gore have had to delve into science fiction. People don’t believe that small increases in global temperature are going to bring on a new global ice age or a wall of water inundating the coastlines.”

Lewis added, “There are many real problems that people face in the world on a daily basis. Higher gasoline prices is one of them, and people realize that not only do the alarmists habitually misrepresent the effects of global warming, but that their proposed solutions will merely make their gasoline prices even higher.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.

For more information:

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: http://people-press.org/report/417/a-deeper-partisan-divide-over-global-warming