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Want Different Answers On Climate Change? Ask Different Questions.

by Stuart Shapiro

Does public belief in climate change fluctuate?  A surface examination of the poll results indicate that it does.  But the real story is more complicated.

“Do you think the greenhouse effect really exists or not?” a poll first asked U.S. respondents in 1986. About 73% answered “yes” in that year, setting a pattern. When pollsters asked folks whether they believed climate change was happening in some sense, most said they did. When they asked folks, “Is there solid evidence the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades, or not,” as a Brookings Institution survey asked in 2007, the responses were “consistently lower,” the analysis finds. More polls have been asking the question this way in recent years.

In other words, ask people what they believe and they will mostly say they believe global warming is happening. If you pile on top of that question the additional task of asking people to assess what they know of the evidence (which may be very little), they become more doubtful in their answers. In that case, more than half of people say they believe in global warming, but the level of agreement drops below 70%, Kristel says.

But if you return to the original question of whether people believe climate change is happening, the answer is above 70%  and slowly climbing, a trend that has been consistent for 30 years.  The group that does not believe in climate change is a small and shrinking minority.

About Stuart Shapiro

Stuart Shapiro Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

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