American views on science and climate

This Pew Research Center report looks at how Americans view a range of science-related issues. It finds that compared to attitudes around food safety and and biomedical topics, views on climate change and energy are closely linked to political beliefs.


Knowing how different American demographics view climate change and energy policy gives insight into who we need to talk to and what message to give in order to reach more people persuasively and effect change. When it comes to belief in climate change, politics emerge as the most divisive factor. However, belief in climate change is not the only factor that drives support for climate action.


The general landscape. 50% of American adults believe global warming is human caused, while the other two quarters are split between belief in natural causes and “no solid evidence” for warming. Amongst the “no solid evidence” group, only half outright deny that global warming is happening while the other half say that we “don’t know enough to say” or are unsure. So, even amongst those who are not convinced, there is some subtlety in response.

Just because people believe doesn’t mean they are concerned. Three quarters of Americans say global warming is happening, but only 46% view global warming as a serious threat.

Even if you don’t believe humans are the cause, you might support climate action. Everyone doesn’t have to be on the same page to support cutting emissions. 50% of Americans believe global warming is due to human activity, yet 64% of Americans support regulating power plant emissions and 60% support prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Still a nation divided. Not surprisingly, political affiliation is the category where the differences in views on climate and energy are starkest. As the scale goes from liberal democrat to conservative republican, there are increasing shares of people who either say that global warming is not due to humans or outright deny it. A majority of liberals (76%) and a smaller majority of moderates (56%) believe that global warming is human-caused. Conservatives are split with 29% believing that global warming is human-caused, 30% believing that global warming is caused by natural patterns, and a whopping 39% in denial. Still, amongst all but the most conservative republicans, there is a majority view that global warming is happening.

The generation gap. Age is an important predictor of climate change beliefs and values. The younger an American adult is, the more likely they are: to say that humans are responsible for global warming, to favor regulating power plant emissions, to support renewable energy development, and to oppose offshore oil development.

Other demographics. Women, Hispanic Americans, and those with college degrees are all more likely to believe that global warming is happening.

It’s not about faith. Church attendance and religious affiliation don’t seem to account for differences in views on global warming.

Belief in scientific consensus. People who believe there is a scientific consensus on global warming are 17% more likely to believe global warming is real and 35% more likely to attribute it to human causes. Conservatives and older people are less likely to believe in the scientific consensus.


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Date: 2015
Organization: Pew Research Center
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Other
Organization: Pew Research Center
Strategic Approach: Audiences, Other

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