Survey Finds American Concerns about Global Warming Persist

April 01, 2016

Three-quarters of Americans are either very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change, remaining at the same level as last year, according to the latest national online survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu). The percentage level of concern reported in 2016 was 75.1 percent, compared to 73 percent last year, which is essentially a statistical tie.

Strikingly, in peninsular Florida, a parallel survey of residents found that 81.3 percent were very concerned or somewhat concerned, a marked increase from last year’s poll around the same time when 67 percent felt that way. There was particularly sharp upward movement in the percentage of those who said they were very concerned, from 28 percent last year to 45.9 percent this year. Meanwhile, other percentage levels shrank. Those who reported they were only somewhat concerned fell to 7.6 percent from 18 percent in 2015, and those who said they were not at all concerned declined this year to 8.3 percent compared to 14 percent last year.

Few people surveyed said they don’t believe climate change is occurring: 4.1 percent nationally and 3.7 percent in Florida this year, versus 4 percent nationally and 8 percent in Florida last year. 

“I think that what this whole poll is telling us is that awareness of global climate change is growing,” said Leo Ondrovic, PhD, a Saint Leo science faculty member and consultant to the polling institute.

The national survey was conducted from March 13 to March 17, 2016, nationally, among 1,015 adult respondents, resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (The results can vary by that many points in either direction.) During the same time period, the institute conducted a parallel poll of 540 adult residents of Florida, which is the home state of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. Because there was a smaller respondent pool in Florida, the margin of error for state questions is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Year-to-year comparisons are available on most of the questions concerning global climate change, as the poll was conducted in March 2015 the same way, although not with the same individuals. Some new questions were added in 2016.

Some particularly interesting findings:

  • The big change nationally was how many more people observe warmer temperatures. That rose to 57.1 percent this year, compared to 45 percent last year. And 72.4 percent of those polled nationally consider global climate change very responsible or somewhat responsible, edging up from 69 percent last year.
  • Similarly, 57 percent of Floridians in 2016 said the temperatures were warming and said climate change was responsible. Nearly half, 49 percent, last year also reported warmer temperatures, so the increase was not as dramatic as the national survey.
  • What substantially more Floridians did report observing in this year’s survey is ocean rise or seacoast flooding, leaping to 33.5 percent from 23 percent. Also more than three- quarters of Floridians held global climate change very or somewhat responsible, a 12-point jump from 63 percent last year.

Also:

  • In both years, the poll asked whether respondents agree with Pope Francis that protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians. And in both years, the results for those strongly or somewhat agreeing were more than 70 percent, nationally and in Florida. The broad agreement exists even though the sample included respondents from multiple religions; Catholics registered agreement with Pope Francis in somewhat higher numbers, though. “Pope Francis may be the international figure who leads on this topic,” said Ondrovic. Pope Francis released a detailed encyclical (teaching document) on environmental ethics and concerns calledLaudato Síin summer of 2015, and its contents received wide media coverage.
  • More than half the respondents, at 57 percent nationally, and more than 62 percent in Florida, said they support strongly or at least somewhat the United States’ participation in the December 2015 Paris Climate Treaty. The talks, convened by the United Nations, call for international cooperation to help reduce gas emissions and thereby hold down rising temperatures. Fewer respondents are confident the treaty will be very effective or somewhat effective, though: that turned out to be 36 percent nationally and 40 percent in Florida.

For the full release, political context, and added charts, please see http://polls.saintleo.edu.

Photo source: NASA.gov

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text)     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)