Polling the Public on Climate Change

State of the Union 2013 (Credit: White House)(Photo Credit: White House)
Two polls released shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address show that a majority of Americans support increased action on climate change. The first survey, by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and taken directly after the speech, indicates that over half of Americans believe that reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for the impacts of climate change, and transitioning to more sustainable sources of energy should be priorities in the president’s second term. Obama’s statement on the necessity of combating climate change “for the sake of our children and our future” struck a chord with Americans, many of whom see tackling the issue as a moral imperative.

Graphic Credit: NRDCGraphic Credit: NRDCA large majority of those polled in the NRDC survey, or 65 percent, think that climate change is a serious problem. Forty-three percent are particularly concerned, calling it a very serious problem. Nonetheless, there continues to be a strong partisan divide over the issue. While the majority of Democrats and Independents surveyed said they were in support of Obama using his authority to reduce carbon pollution, only one-fifth of Republicans show support. Additionally, only 32 percent of Republicans believe that climate change is a serious problem, compared to 95 percent of Democrats.

More frequent and severe climate-related extreme weather events, such as Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast and the record-breaking drought in the Midwest, may be playing a role in the public’s increased conviction that climate change is occurring. Indeed, over half of those surveyed think that climate change is already a problem, while one in ten respondents think it will be a problem in the near future. The survey also assessed what most concerns Americans about climate change: the primary worry was extreme weather events, followed closely by human health and the economy.

Graphic Credit: NRDCGraphic Credit: NRDCThe National League of Conservation Voters conducted a similar poll earlier in February, which was also released the day after the State of the Union address, but whose results were not affected by the President's February 12 address. According to the survey, a majority of Americans feel that climate change is already affecting them personally or will affect them in their lifetime. Nearly two-thirds of the public support “the President taking significant steps to address climate change now.” This sentiment follows the significant attention Obama devoted to the issue in his second Inaugural Address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” Differences in opinion do not only split along party lines, but also along racial ones. Sixty percent of Caucasians, 76 percent of Hispanics, and an overwhelming 86 percent of African-Americans agree that the President should take significant action to address climate change.