Past Research

Changing Public Perception of Climate Change in the United States

Research dates: 2009-2013
Investigator(s): Wanyun Shao, Barry Keim, James Garand, Lawrence Hamilton

Two series of national survey datasets (2001-10), supplemented with monthly temperature and precipitation data and unemployment data, are used to examine how weather and climate, economic performance, and individuals’ socio demographic backgrounds and political orientations affect public perceptions of global warming. Consistent with previous studies, political orientations play a key role in determining public perceptions of global warming. Democrats and liberals are more likely than Republicans and conservatives to see global warming as an immediate and serious problem. Socio demographic characteristics are also shown to be significant factors, with young people, women, and racial minorities likely to show higher concern about global warming than their counterparts. Moreover, individuals with lower income and higher levels of education tend to be more concerned about global warming. Net of these factors, summer temperature trends over the past 10 years, among other weather and climate measures, are shown to have consistently positive effects on public perceptions of global warming. This suggests that individuals who have experienced increasing summer heat are most likely to perceive immediate impacts and severity of global warming. Surprisingly, macroeconomic conditions - represented by the unemployment rate at the county level - do not appear to influence public perceptions of global warming. More information can be found in this journal article.