Americans Believe 2015 Was Record-Warm, but Split on Why

Americans Believe 2015 Was Record-Warm, but Split on Why

Americans Believe 2015 Was Record-Warm, but Split on Why

The FINANCIAL -- U.S. government scientists recently reported that 2015 was the Earth's warmest year since reliable record keeping began. Majorities of U.S. adults surveyed in Gallup's annual Environment poll are aware of this finding and believe it is accurate, but they are almost evenly divided on whether the record-high temperatures are attributable mainly to human-caused climate change (49%) or natural variability (46%).

Majority of Americans Aware of Reports of Record Temperatures for 2015

When asked if they had heard that scientists recently reported that 2015 was the Earth's warmest year on record, 63% of U.S. adults said they had. This awareness varies somewhat among key demographic sectors -- particularly education, age and race.

College graduates are substantially more likely than those with no college to have heard of the reports, 76% vs. 53%. A large gap is also evident by age: 70% of those aged 55 and older are familiar with the reports, compared with 53% of 18- to 34-year-olds. Whites (68%) are more likely than nonwhites (52%) to have heard. Partisan differences are insignificant, with 66% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans hearing about the reports of record temperatures in 2015.

Majority Also Believe the Reports Are Accurate

All respondents were next asked whether they believe the reports are accurate. A somewhat larger majority than had heard of the reports say they are accurate, 69%, while 27% say they are not. Compared with the question about awareness of the reports, the patterns by subgroup change substantially on the question of their accuracy.

While Republicans and Democrats are similarly aware of the reports about 2015's record warmth, there are striking partisan differences in terms of belief in the reports' accuracy: 84% of Democrats believe them, compared with 52% of Republicans.

Young adults (aged 18 to 34) are more likely to believe the reports than their older (55 and older) counterparts, 78% vs. 65%. There is a modest difference between whites (67%) and nonwhites (74%) in the perceived accuracy of the reports. College graduates are also modestly more likely to believe the reports than those with no college, 75% vs. 67%.

Americans Split on Primary Cause of Record Warmth

A third question in the March 2-6 poll asked respondents if, assuming the reports are true, they think the record 2015 global temperatures are mainly attributable to human-caused climate change or to natural changes in the Earth's temperatures. Here, the U.S. public is sharply divided. Forty-nine percent attribute the record temperatures to human-caused climate change, while 46% attribute them to natural changes.

Not surprisingly, given the degree to which climate change has become a highly polarized political issue, there is a chasm between Republicans and Democrats on the source of 2015's record-high global temperatures. While 72% of Democrats attribute the record temperatures to human-caused climate change, only 27% of Republicans do so. This mirrors the continued large partisan gap in views of global warming documented in other items in this year's Environment poll.

Younger adults (those 18 to 34) are also much more likely than older Americans (55 and older) to attribute the record warmth to human-caused climate change, 61% vs. 39%. There are also noticeable differences by education and race: College graduates are more likely than those with no college to choose human causation (56% vs. 42%), and nonwhites are more likely than whites to do so (58% vs. 46%).

As Gallup reported previously, the same poll found 63% of Americans saying that temperatures where they live have been warmer than usual this winter and 10% saying they were colder than usual. About half of each group -- or 38% of all Americans -- attribute the unusual winter weather to climate change caused by human activity. That is somewhat less than the percentage attributing last year's record warmth at the global level to human-caused climate change.

Bottom Line

A strong majority of Americans, including 52% of Republicans, accept that 2015 was a record-setting warm year. However, they are sharply divided, especially on the basis of political affiliation, on the sources of the record temperatures. This is yet another indication of the extreme degree of partisan polarization surrounding climate change that has evolved in the U.S. over the past decade.