Image: ShutterstockAmericans’ views regarding global warming tend to correlate to personal experiences with weather, and global warming skeptics are increasingly likely to cite personal weather observations as the reason behind their views, according to a recent study from the Univ. of Michigan.

“Having gathered public opinion about belief in climate change twice a year for the last seven years allows us to link public opinion to weather data,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy and a director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Univ. of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. “It allows us to see, for example, that while belief in global warming typically falls over the cold winter months, in winters with temperatures substantially above average–such as winter 2012 and winter 2015–belief in climate change actually rises.”

The spring 2015 survey, which shows that 45% of global warming skeptics credit their views to personal weather observations, comes after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the average temperature, across land and sea surfaces, between December 2014 and February 2015 was 1.42 degrees higher than the 20th century average. 

That 45% figure, according to the paper’s authors, is the highest percentage of respondents who have cited personal observations as the specific reason for disbelief in global warming since the National Surveys on Energy and Environment began gathering data in 2008.

One of the survey’s key findings was 63% of Americans believe there’s strong evidence for global warming, slightly higher than the fall 2014 survey’s result of 60% and eight percentage points higher than the spring 2014’s results.

Preconceived notions influence belief
Another finding was preconceived notions of global warming tend to influence one’s opinion. Eighteen percent “of those who (don’t) think there is evidence of global warming report that last year was warmer than normal in their area, while 38% of those who think (there’s) evidence of global warming report warmer temperatures,” the study reads.

“Among individuals who indicate they don’t believe global warming is happening, those in the Midwest and Northeast are most likely to cite personal observations of weather as the primary factor for their view,” the report reads. In the Northeast, 54% of survey respondents cited personal weather observations as a source of doubt in global warming. In the Midwest, it was 60%.

The study comes on the heels of a winter that dropped 110.6 in of snow in Boston, Ma., 43.8 in above normal according to WeatherWorks; and 27 in in Philadelphia, PA., 5.1 in above normal.

Conversely, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Washington recorded their warmest winters on record, according to the NOAA.

According to the survey, 56% and 54% of the survey’s respondents indicated severe droughts and extreme weather events, respectively, reinforced their belief in global warming. 

Political affiliation factors
Additionally, political affiliation continued to have an effect regarding Americans’ views of global warming. Seventy-six percent of surveyed democrats and 60% of surveyed independents responded they believe there’s evidence of global warming. Republicans remain more divided, with 45% responding there’s evidence of global warming and 42% responding there’s no such evidence. 

The survey is a joint effort between Univ. of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy and the Muhlenberg Institute of Public opinion at Muhlenberg College.  The random telephone survey pooled information from 751 Americans between April 8 and 30.


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