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Duke University survey finds more Americans concerned about climate change than in recent years

From the February 19, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published February 19, 2013

By Jeannine Anderson
Fifty percent of Americans think climate change is occurring and an additional 34 percent think it is probably occurring, according to a Duke University survey of U.S. public opinion on climate change. Those groups combined — 84 percent of Americans— "appear to represent the highest level of belief that the climate is changing in at least five years, although comparisons across different surveys can be misleading due to differences in question wording and sampling methods," the researchers said. A slim majority (54 percent) of Americans think climate change is the result of human activity — also the highest level in many years, they said.

Opinions on the topic "remain divided across party lines," they said, but the survey found bipartisan support for regulating greenhouse gas  emissions and for clean energy requirements.

The survey was conducted by Frederick Mayer and Alex Pfaff of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and Sarah Adair of the university's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The data were gathered Jan. 16-22 in a poll of 1,089 adults ages 18 and older. The survey has a margin of error of 3 percent.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think that climate change is occurring, according to the Duke University survey, with 70 percent of Democrats saying they are convinced, compared to 27 percent of Republicans. "However, an additional 43 percent of Republicans in our sample say that it is probably occurring, although they’d like more evidence," the researchers said.

A large majority of Americans (64 percent) support a combination of greenhouse gas regulations for power plants and factories and fuel-efficiency stan­dards for cars, the survey found. Similarly, 64 percent support requiring utilities to generate "a large amount" of power from low-carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear.

However, the survey found very little support for market-based policy approaches such as a carbon tax or a carbon market (a cap-and-trade program), with only 29 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat in favor of a carbon tax. The survey found that many Americans are unfamiliar with the concept of a carbon market. "Only 8 percent have heard 'a great deal' about cap and trade, while 44 percent have heard 'nothing at all,'" the researchers said.

Responses to the survey "are correlated with media sources," they said. "Viewers of MSNBC and CNN are more sup­portive of all policies [to combat climate change] than average, while Fox viewers are much less supportive."

Survey respondents' trust in scientists to provide impartial, accurate information on climate change "is highly correlated with both [political] party identification and media source," the researchers said. "Democrats are generally more trusting of scientists relative to both Republicans and Independents, with 31 percent of Democrats and only 9 percent of Republicans trusting scientists 'a great deal' to provide impartial and accurate findings" on climate change.

"A large majority of Americans are now either convinced the climate is changing or think that it is probably changing, but fewer Americans are convinced that carbon taxes or markets are satisfactory policy responses," the Duke University researchers concluded in a policy brief on the survey. Carbon taxes "remain decidedly unpopular despite the recent uptick in discussion as lawmakers look for ways to reduce the federal deficit," they wrote. "While partisan differences persist in beliefs about climate change and attitudes toward government policies, majori­ties of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support more traditional policy approaches, including emissions regulation and requirements to produce more clean energy."

The policy brief is posted on Duke University's website.


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