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Multiple Polls Reveal Overwhelming Concern about Global Warming among Americans

Noisy minority, confusing questions and misleading headlines have created wrong impression, researchers say

Jun 15, 2010

WASHINGTON—Much-ballyhooed polls from Gallup, CNN and the Pew Research Center have led our short-attention-span nation to believe that Americans are increasingly skeptical about the very existence of global warming.

However, Stanford University political science and psychology professor Jon Krosnick, who has conducted surveys about climate change since at least 1995, questions that conclusion, and evidently has the goods to back up his doubts. Belief in the reality, human causes and threats of global warming is alive and very much kicking, he maintains.

His June 1-7 countrywide telephone poll of 1,000 adults indicates that 74 percent thought the Earth’s temperature had heated up during the last 100 years, 75 percent attribute warming to human behavior, and 86 percent want the federal government to limit air pollution emissions from businesses.

Two other recent polls support Krosnick's assessment -- including one that surveyed small business owners -- and taken together they are giving Senators, hemming and hawing about climate legislation, something new to think about as election season approaches.

Krosnick's survey did turn up a small decline in the proportion of people who believe global warming has been happening—from 84 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2008 to 74 percent today.

But a statistical analysis attributed that drop to perceptions of recent weather changes by what Krosnick called the minority of Americans skeptical of climate scientists.

“If somebody tells you that Americans are cooling on global warming, keep in mind that 74 percent is a gigantic number in America,” Krosnick told a Washington audience during a June 10 briefing presented by the bipartisan nonprofit Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

“Huge majorities of Americans still believe the Earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.”

Headlines that claim otherwise are misleading and likely misinterpreting data, says Krosnick, a senior fellow with Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. The National Science Foundation funded his latest survey.

He chastised publications for headlines such as “Poll Finds Americans More Confused About Climate,” “Public More Complacent About Climate Change,” and “Americans No Longer Swallowing Global Warming Dogma.”

The Stanford numbers were just part of a recent, albeit small, outbreak of what might be called “pollitis” in the capital region.

George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Yale University released a joint poll titled “American Opinion on Climate Change Warms Up.” And not to be outdone, the Small Business Majority touted a poll showing that a majority of small and minority-owned businesses favor government action on climate change and clean energy technology.

Small Businesses Want to Get on the Clean Energy Train

What is thought to be the first survey garnering opinions about climate change and clean energy among small businesses turned up some timely and intriguing benchmarks for John Arensmeyer, founder and chief executive officer of the Small Business Majority, a research, education and advocacy organization.

“We know this is a critical area and we need to get a handle on it,” Arensmeyer told Solve Climate in an interview. “This is our first foray. We’ll take these results and start a dialog with businesses.”

The March 24-April 6 nationwide survey polled owners, managers and CEOs of 802 small business owners nationwide with 100 or fewer employees. That figure included 100 African American owners and 100 Hispanic owners.

Results showed that 61 percent agree that a move to clean energy can restart the economy and help small businesses create jobs, and that half of the small businesses support clean energy and climate legislation.

That latter number caused Arensmeyer to puzzle over why congressional legislators opposed to measures to curb heat-trapping gases consistently trot out small business owners as losing their collective shirts under any type of climate measure.

“I don’t know what statistics they are looking at because I haven’t seen any of those numbers,” he said. “I don’t think they are basing those assumptions on any hard data. That’s why we’re gathering these numbers and we’re going to keep doing so.”

His organization, he emphasized, is concerned about the “vast middle” of the small business spectrum.

“We’re not trying to influence those who are approaching this from an ideological stand,” Arensmeyer explained. “We’re after the business rationale for support or opposition. It’s about the bottom line for businesses this size.”

Most surprising to Arensmeyer were the numbers registered by members of local chambers of commerce and minority businesses. A full 60 percent of Hispanic-owned businesses and 78 percent of black-owned businesses support clean energy and climate legislation.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce evidently isn’t reflecting the views of at least some of its members,” he said, pointing to the 60 percent of businesses surveyed that support clean energy and climate legislation. “These people join local chambers and have a more pragmatic view.”

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