Polling Institute Survey Finds Broad Concern in Florida About Global Climate Change

April 07, 2015

A new survey of Florida residents by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found that 67 percent of those polled said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change. The margin of error for the Florida survey, which collected answers from 522 online respondents between March 15 and March 21, was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Thirty-two percent of Floridians polled were either somewhat unconcerned (18 percent) or not at all concerned (14) about global climate change, and 2 percent were not sure or didn’t know.

And when asked about their beliefs about the causes of global climate change:

  • 16 percent said it is caused entirely by human activity
  • 14 percent said global climate change is caused entirely by nature
  • 57 percent said it is caused by a combination of human activity and nature
  • 8 percent responded that they do not believe global climate change is occurring,
  • 5 percent said they don’t know or are unsure

The survey showed a gratifying level of concern on the part of the public, as well as opportunities for scientists and educators to explain more about global climate change, said Dr. Leo Ondrovic, associate professor of biology and physics at Saint Leo University. Dr. Ondrovic also developed an undergraduate course for non-science majors called Evaluating the Predictions of Global Warming, which helps students understand the topic, and gives them an appreciation of the scientific method to help increase their overall scientific literacy.

“It is encouraging news that more than half show some level of concern,” said Dr. Ondrovic. Still, he found respondents’ beliefs about the causes of global climate change indicate a possible misperception among the public. “Global climate change theory predicts changes from the natural variations,” he explained, “yet 57 percent of the respondents in Florida think changes are a combination of both man-made and natural variation. This suggests that most people do not understand, or don’t believe, that climate scientists have already considered the contributions of nature.”

Dr. Ondrovic also commented on the changes in environmental conditions residents said they noted. Specifically, only 23 percent said they were aware of ocean rising or seacoast flooding. “It is surprising that Floridians did not have a higher rate of recognition of sea level rise, given the widely publicized periodic flooding in Miami and Cape Canaveral.”

The survey listed coastal flooding among eight possible environmental conditions and asked people whether such conditions are occurring in the state. The next question asked how strongly - very, somewhat, not very, not at all, or don’t know – the respondents attributed any noted changes in their surroundings to global climate change. In each case where changes were noted, and where people were asked if they see global climate as responsible, more people consistently selected “somewhat strongly” for their answer than any of the other choices.

For instance:

Environmental condition Percent in Florida who said it is occurring Percent who somewhat strongly relate this to climate change Percent who very strongly attribute this to global climate change
Ocean rising/seacoast flooding 23% 36% 27%
Beach erosion 56% 35% 25%
Warmer temperatures 49% 36% 32%
Unusually severe weather/storms 25% 34% 25%
Loss or threatened loss of habitats 29% 33% 21%
Loss or threatened loss of species 26% 22% 22%
Worsened air quality 19% 31% 20%
Worsened drought conditions 18% 38% 23%

In reviewing people’s responses, Dr. Ondrovic commented: “The general public sees effects of the climate changing, although a majority did not attribute any single effect to climate change, even though all of these can be tied to climate change.”

Related Highlights

  • In seeking reliable information about climate change, the respondents were asked to name which sources (with multiple answers allowed) they find reliable. Non-government scientists and educators were named 47 percent of the time followed by environmental groups 35 percent of the time. Mainstream media organizations such as The Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, and so on, were named 22 percent of the time; Fox News was named 21 percent of the time; and the scientist and host of the television series Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson was named 20 percent of the time.
  • The survey noted that Pope Francis had recently said that protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians, and asked respondents whether and how strongly they agree with his statement. The most frequently occurring answer was strongly agree at 41 percent. That was followed by somewhat agree at 33 percent, for a combined base of 74 percent at some level of agreement. Eleven percent said they disagree somewhat, and 7 percent said they strongly disagree. Nine percent said they weren’t sure or didn’t know. Demographic information collected for the poll revealed 69 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Christians.
  • Respondents also answered questions about what levels of government or the business sector might be able to deal with problems created by climate change. The results were mixed, as were results to related questions, such as which entities bear the most responsibility.
  • Respondents were also asked about what they have done to reduce carbon pollution. The most popular answer, with 34 percent of responses, was the purchase of a smaller or more fuel efficient car. As for what people are willing to do, 41 percent said they would be willing to install or purchase alternative energy sources, such as solar, for their homes.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute has posted a more detailed release and full results in table form here: http://polls.saintleo.edu.

Photo credit: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Florida in October 2014. Illuminated areas give a strong sense of the size of cities. The brightest continuous patch of lights is the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, the largest urban area in the southeastern U.S. and home to 5.6 million people. The next largest area is the Tampa Bay region (2.8 million people) on the Gulf Coast. Orlando, located in the middle, has a somewhat smaller footprint (2.3 million).