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Annual Saint Leo University Polling Institute Survey Reveals Growing Importance of Climate Change Concern in Politics

Survey polled 1,000 respondents nationally and 900 statewide in Florida

Climate change continues to be a concern nationally for Americans, with a combined 73.3 percent indicating to the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) that they are were very concerned (40.8 percent) or somewhat concerned (32.5) percent about the issue. In Florida, the home of the nonpartisan polling institute, 75.9 percent of residents polled reported some level of concern: 47.3 percent said they are very concerned, and 28.6 percent said they are somewhat concerned.

Both the national and Florida statewide polls were conducted online from February 17 through February 22. The national poll was conducted among 1,000 respondents and so answers have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage. The Florida survey collected responses from 900 residents, and the resulting answers have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Saint Leo polling institute has been asking about people’s attitudes toward climate change since 2015, and the combined measure of concern has been consistently high, around 70 percent or greater nationally and in Florida. This was true also in 2016 also, the year of the most recent presidential election.

And yet, the climate change issue appears to be more urgent for some voters now. That shows up in a separate question, where respondents are given a list of about 15 policy areas and asked the name the one that is the simple most important issue facing the country today.

In 2016, climate change was cited by 4.4 percent of national respondents, with six other issues ranking higher, including jobs and the economy, the federal deficit and more. In 2020 by comparison, 8.6 percent nationally pinpointed climate change as the most important issue, and four other issues ranked higher, including health care, jobs and the economy, immigration and healthcare.

“The salience of climate change has increased over the past four years,’’ said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, and a political scientist. “We can definitely see that increased incidents of extreme weather events and high-profile politicians making this a core part of their platform has led to more people focusing on this issue. This is now a significant issue,” Orlando said, “and the debate is shifting away from ‘if anything should be done’ towards ‘what should be done.’”

ClimateDashboard_sea-levels-map-trends_2018_620

In response to another set of questions, more than half of 2020 respondents nationally said they hold climate change as somewhat responsible or very responsible for a gamut of observable conditions that were individually cited. These conditions included seacoast flooding, beach erosion, warmer temperatures, more severe storms, worsened drought conditions, poorer air quality, habitat loss or threatened loss, loss of species, inland flooding, cyclonic storms, more polar oscillations, and wildfires both in the United States and Australia. Floridians responded similarly.

Climate Change Theory and Public Education

The polling institute also asked about public education and climate change through a test statement introduced in 2019. People were asked to record their level and intensity of agreement of disagreement with the sentence: “Climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools.” Nationally, 67.6 percent agreed with strongly (39.2 percent) or somewhat (28.4 percent) with that premise. In Florida, a combined 70.4 percent agreed, with 40.6 percent of responses in strong agreement. In both cases, the totals are a couple of points higher than in 2019.

A member of the Saint Leo University science faculty, Dr. Leo Ondrovic, predicted more Americans will “realize this threat when it becomes part of mainstream education.”

Teen Climate Activist

The polling institute also decided this year to ask polling respondents about their reaction to the much-televised appearances of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in the United States last year. The specific question and the national results from those aware of Thunberg and her speeches appear here, and indicate twice as many people liked her as not. Florida results were similar to the national results.

In 2019, Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations and now has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Which of the following best reflects your own view of the speeches by Greta Thunberg…?

  • Of the national respondents, 23.1 percent said Thunberg’s speeches were very impressive and very inspiring, and 18.5 percent said they were somewhat impressive and somewhat inspiring, for a combined result of 41.6 percent with favorable reviews.
  • On the other side of the coin, 12.8 percent nationally said her speeches were not at all impressive or inspiring, and 6.7 percent said the talks were somewhat unimpressive and somewhat uninspiring. That made for a combined total of 19.5 percent of national respondents who were regarded Thunberg’s talks unfavorably.
  • Another 13.5 percent said they had no reaction either way.

The groups of respondents who liked Thunberg’s speeches in highest numbers were liberals, those with more than a college education, Hispanics, and respondents between the ages of 18 to 44, the survey data also shows.

Republicans and conservatives in the respondent base were more likely to be among those who were not impressed with the teen.

A more detailed release is also available at: http://polls.saintleo.edu/annual-survey-on-attitudes-about-climate-change/. For even more insights into Americans’ attitudes about climate change and possible adaptation, see the full findings at http://polls.saintleo.edu and look under Poll Reports

The image shows a map created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to show sea level rise and was downloaded from NOAA Climate.gov.

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