THE VINE MARCH 12, 2010
Yesterday, Gallup released a poll suggesting that Americans seem to be less and less concerned about climate change. Here was the big headline-grabbing chart:
So why the rise in skepticism? Was it those Climategate e-mails? All those news stories harping on a few small errors in the IPCC's report? Sure, it's possible that both episodes could've affected public opinion, even if neither was significant on the merits. Still, it's interesting to look at the crosstabs of the poll, as Josh Nelson does, and note that skepticism about global warming is almost exclusively on the rise among political conservatives. Two years ago, for instance, 50 percent of conservatives believed climate change was already happening—that's now down to 30 percent.
I'd guess it's just as likely that political dynamics are a big driver here, as opposed to, say, a handful of e-mails from East Anglia. After all, climate change has become increasingly identified as a Democratic cause—in no small part because it's one of Barack Obama's main agenda items. And, on the flip side, you have key Republicans like John McCain and Charlie Crist facing primary challenges and edging away from what was once a signature issue for them. Energy issues have become far more partisan of late, which could explain the sharp uptick in skepticism over the past year and a half.
On the other hand, maybe it's just a bad idea to read too much into climate polls. As Dan Weiss has noted, Americans have been deeply confused about whether or not there's a scientific consensus on climate change for more than a decade—and yet majorities still favor clamping down on greenhouse gases. Public opinion is odd.