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A simple question about climate change, with one choice designed to match consensus statements by scientists, was asked on 35 US nationwide, single-state or regional surveys from 2010 to 2015. Analysis of these data (over 28,000 interviews) yields robust and exceptionally well replicated findings on public beliefs about anthropogenic climate change, including regional variations, change over time, demographic bases, and the interacting effects of respondent education and political views. We find that more than half of the US public accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. A sizable, politically opposite minority (about 30 to 40%) concede the fact of climate change, but believe it has mainly natural causes. Few (about 10 to 15%) say they believe climate is not changing, or express no opinion. The overall proportions appear relatively stable nationwide, but exhibit place-to-place variations. Detailed analysis of 21 consecutive surveys within one fairly representative state (New Hampshire) finds a mild but statistically significant rise in agreement with the scientific consensus over 2010–2015. Effects from daily temperature are detectable but minor. Hurricane Sandy, which brushed New Hampshire but caused no disaster there, shows no lasting impact on that state’s time series—suggesting that non-immediate weather disasters have limited effects. In all datasets political orientation dominates among individual-level predictors of climate beliefs, moderating the otherwise positive effects from education. Acceptance of anthropogenic climate change rises with education among Democrats and Independents, but not so among Republicans. The continuing series of surveys provides a baseline for tracking how future scientific, political, socioeconomic or climate developments impact public acceptance of the scientific consensus.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Hamilton, L.C., J. Hartter, M. Lemcke-Stampone, D.W. Moore & T.G. Safford. 2015. “Tracking public beliefs about anthropogenic climate change.” PLOS ONE 10(9):e0138208. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138208
© 2015 Hamilton et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.