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Environmental Polls

Global Warming’s Six Americas 2010

In 2009 we identified six distinct “Americas” when it comes to the issue of global warming. One year later, we are releasing a report on the status of these six key audiences.

We have found that one of these groups: the “Dismissive” – who believe global warming is not happening and probably a hoax – has more than doubled in size since 2008 to 16 percent of the American public.

Meanwhile, the percentage of the “Alarmed” – Americans who are the most convinced that global warming is happening, caused by humans, and a serious and urgent threat – has dropped to 10 percent, from 18 percent in 2008. Shifts also occurred among the four other groups:

  • The “Concerned” – Americans who believe global warming is a serious problem and support an active national response, but are less personally involved – have dropped to 29 percent of the public, down from 33 percent in 2008.

  • The “Cautious” – who believe global warming is a problem, but not urgent, and are unsure whether it is human caused – increased to 27 percent, from 19 percent in 2008.

  • The “Disengaged” – Americans who do not know much about global warming or whether it is happening, and have not thought much about it – decreased to 6 percent, down from 12 percent in 2008.

  • Finally, the “Doubtful” – who are not sure whether global warming is happening, but believe that, if it is, is natural and a distant threat – increased slightly to 13 percent, from 11 percent in 2008.

We believe that gloomy unemployment numbers, public frustration with Washington, attacks on climate science, and mobilized opposition to national climate legislation represent a ‘perfect storm’ of events that have diminished public concerns about global warming – even among the Alarmed.

Surprisingly, however, majorities in all six groups say that developing sources of clean energy should be a priority for President Obama and Congress, and strongly support more funding for research into renewable energy sources and tax rebates for people who buy energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels.

Regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, which is currently being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency, is supported by almost all of the groups, including 91 percent of the Alarmed; 93 percent of the Concerned; 79 percent of the Cautious; 92 percent of the Disengaged; and 52 percent of the Doubtful. Only the Dismissive oppose regulation of carbon dioxide, with only 15 percent supporting the policy.

Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009

One of the first rules of effective communication is to “know thy audience.” Climate change public communication and engagement efforts must start with the fundamental recognition that people are different and have different psychological, cultural, and political reasons for acting – or not acting– to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This report identifies Global Warming’s Six Americas: six unique audiences within the American public that each responds to the issue in their own distinct way.  The six audiences were identified using a large nationally representative survey of American adults conducted in the fall of 2008. The survey questionnaire included extensive, in-depth measures of the public’s climate change beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, motivations, values, policy preferences, behaviors, and underlying barriers to action. The Six Americas are distinguishable on all these dimensions, and display very different levels of engagement with the issue. They also vary in size – ranging from as small as 7 percent to as large as 33 percent of the adult population.

The Alarmed (18%) are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it. The Concerned (33%) – the largest of the six Americas – are also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally. Three other Americas – the Cautious (19%), the Disengaged (12%) and the Doubtful (11%) – represent different stages of understanding and acceptanceof the problem, and none are actively involved. The final America – the Dismissive (7%)– are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This report introduces these Six Americas by briefly describing each audience and highlighting how they differ from one another; it concludes with detailed demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral profiles of each group. This research provides essential knowledge that can be leveraged by climate educators and communicators throughout American society, including local, state, and national governments, academic institutions, environmental organizations, businesses, faith groups, doctors and scientists, and the media. Successfully addressing this challenge will require a diversity of messages, messengers, and methods, each tailored to meet the needs of different target audiences. This research provides a solid foundation, grounded in social science, to facilitate the changes required to achieve a transition to a low-carbon future.

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Climate Change in the American Mind

Released in March 2009, "Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans' Climate Change Beliefs, Attitudes, Policy Preferences, and Actions" is based on a nationally representative survey of 2,164 American adults conducted in October 2008. This broad and a deep examination of how Americans are dealing with the issue of global warming yielded an important new perspective. On the whole, the American mind appears to be open to embracing a concerted national effort to address climate change.

Global Warming and the 2008 Presidential Election

Nearly two out of three undecided voters say that the presidential candidates' positions on global warming will influence their vote in the upcoming election, according to a new national survey released jointly today by researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and George Mason University. Consistent with other recent polls, the survey found that 48 percent of registered voters said they will vote or are leaning toward voting for Barack Obama, while 39 percent say they will vote or are leaning toward voting for John McCain. Nine percent of registered voters were still undecided as of Oct. 14.

While few undecided voters rated global warming as the single most important issue that will determine their vote, 62 percent of undecided voters, 64 percent of voters leaning toward McCain and 75 percent of voters leaning toward Obama indicated that global warming is one of several important issues that will influence their vote. “Even in the midst of the nation’s financial turmoil, global warming remains an important issue for large numbers of voters,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Project on Climate Change at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Saving Energy at Home and On the Road

"Saving energy at home and on the road: A survey of Americans' energy saving behaviors, intentions, motivations, and barriers" is based on a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 Americans. Reducing energy use - including helping American families become more energy-efficient in their homes and travels - is currently near the top of the agenda at every level of government. This report provides an audience-centric perspective on those issues.

2007 Yale Environmental Poll

According to a new poll conducted by the Yale Center of Environmental Law and Policy's Environmental Attitudes and Behavior Project, 83 percent of Americans now say global warming is a "serious" problem, up from 70 percent in 2004. More Americans than ever say they have serious concerns about environmental threats, such as toxic soil and water (92 percent, up from 85 percent in 2004), deforestation (89 percent, up from 78 percent), air pollution (93 percent, up from 87 percent) and the extinction of wildlife (83 percent, up from 72 percent in 2005). Most dramatically, the survey of 1,000 adults nationwide shows that 63 percent of Americans agree that the United States "is in as much danger from environmental hazards, such as air pollution and global warming, as it is from terrorists."

Press Release, 12 March 2007
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