December 1, 2011

Modest Rise in Number Saying There Is ’Solid Evidence’ of Global Warming

More Moderate Republicans See Evidence of Warming

Overview

The percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming has increased modestly over the past two years. Currently, 63% say there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades. In October 2009, 57% expressed this view.

The number saying global warming is a very serious problem also has ticked up – to 38% currently from 32% last year; 35% said this in 2009.

Nonetheless, substantially fewer Americans say there is solid evidence of global warming than did so from 2006 to 2008. And in those years, higher percentages viewed global warming as a very serious problem than do so today.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Nov. 9-14 among 2,001 adults, finds that nearly four-in-ten (38%) say that global warming is occurring mostly because of human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, which also is slightly higher than last year (34%). From 2006-2008, 47% said global warming was mostly caused by human activity.

The survey finds a continuing partisan divide in opinions about global warming: 77% of Democrats and 63% of independents say there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades. Just 43% of Republicans agree.

There also is a large partisan gap in views about the causes of global warming: 51% of Democrats and 40% of independents say the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity. Just 19% of Republicans say rising temperatures are mostly attributable to human activity.

GOP More Internally Divided

Since 2009, there have been sharp increases in the percentages of independents and moderate and liberal Republicans who say there is solid evidence of global warming.

Currently, 63% of independents say there is solid evidence of rising temperatures, up from 53% in October 2009. The shift has been more dramatic among moderate and liberal Republicans, who comprise about a third of all Republicans. More than six-in-ten (63%) now see solid evidence of global warming, compared with 41% two years ago.

Opinions among conservative Republicans have changed little since 2009; currently, just 31% say there is solid evidence the earth is warming. The gap between conservative Republicans and the party’s moderates and liberals has increased from nine percentage points in 2009 to 32 points in the new survey.

College graduates and older Americans also are more likely to see solid evidence of global warming. Two-thirds of college graduates (68%) say there is solid evidence of rising temperatures, up 10 points from 2009. And 61% of those 65 and older express this view today, compared with 50% two years ago.

Most See Warming as Serious Problem

A majority of Americans (65%) say that global warming is either a very serious (38%) or somewhat serious (27%) problem. A third (33%) views global warming as not too serious a problem (16%) or not a problem (17%).

The large partisan and ideological gap over the existence of global warming is reflected in opinions about whether it represents a serious problem. Nine-in-ten (90%) liberal Democrats say global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem, with 64% calling it very serious. Nearly three-quarters of conservative Republicans (73%) say global warming either is not too serious a problem or not a problem; 44% say it is not a problem.

Both parties are internally divided, though the differences are more pronounced among Republicans. While 73% of conservatives say global warming is not much of a problem, only 34% of moderates and conservatives agree. Liberal Democrats are more likely than the party’s conservatives and moderates to view global warming as a very serious problem (64% vs. 50%). And about twice as many conservative and moderate Democrats as liberals say it is little or no problem (21% vs. 9%).

Tea Party Republicans and Global Warming

The GOP’s divisions over global warming also are seen in how Tea Party Republicans and non-Tea Party Republicans view the issue.

Among all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party, 30% say there is solid evidence of global warming and 11% say it is mostly caused by human activity. A majority (56%) of Republicans and GOP leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party see solid evidence of global warming, and 28% say it is mostly caused by human activity.

And while more than half (55%) of Republicans and leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party view global warming as at least a somewhat serious problem, just 27% of Tea Party Republicans agree.

Cite this publication: “Modest Rise in Number Saying There Is ’Solid Evidence’ of Global Warming.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 1, 2011) http://www.people-press.org/2011/12/01/modest-rise-in-number-saying-there-is-solid-evidence-of-global-warming/, accessed on July 22, 2014.