Survey: Americans Believe Global Warming is Real, Think Government Should Respond

December 12, 2008

Dec. 11, 2008 -- Most Americans believe that global climate change is occurring, and think that all levels of government should be involved, according to the report, Climate Change and American Public Opinion: The National and State Perspective (PDF), a national poll of public opinion about climate change, the government's role in dealing with it, and available policy options.

The poll was presented as part of the National Conference on Climate Governance hosted by University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs on Thursday, Dec. 11. The invitation-only conference, which concludes Friday, Dec. 12, is being webcast live and will be archived online at

Authors Barry Rabe, Miller Center Visiting Scholar from the University of Michigan, and Christopher Borick, Director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College, presented the findings of the survey that measured American attitudes and beliefs, at both national and state levels, regarding global warming.

Survey results were drawn from a telephone survey of Americans during September 2008, and are based on a random sample of adults ages 18 and older who reside in the United States. In addition to a national sample of 603 Americans (+/-4%), samples of at least 300 residents were conducted in four states: California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Mississippi (+/-6%).

Findings from the survey include:

    * 72% of Americans believe that global warming is real. Of those that believe, more than 95% are fairly or very confident in that belief, and 92% of that percentage believes that it is a serious problem facing the nation.

    * These beliefs are drawn from a combination of personal observations of changes in the physical environment and images of altered global environments, including melting glaciers and polar ice (19%), warmer local temperatures (19%), changing weather patterns (18%), media coverage and literature on climate change (15%), scientific research (9%), and pollution and human activity (4%).

    * 70% of Americans believe that immediate government action is needed to deal with climate change. 81% believe that federal government has a responsibility to deal with the matter. 80% think state government should be responsible, while 73% think local government should be responsible.

    * If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, 70% of Americans believe that it is their state's responsibility to address the problem.

    * Americans generally embrace regulatory means by which alternative energy sources can be developed and energy efficiency achieved. For instance, 59% strongly support the creation of a renewable portfolio standard, while 52% strongly support increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. However, a substantial partisan divide challenges consensus on these matters.

    * Americans are more unified in opposing tax increases to reduce consumption. Only 18% strongly support increased fossil fuel taxes, while 10% strongly support increased gasoline taxes.

This past October, the Miller Center previewed Virginia's survey findings. Both Climate Change and American Public Opinion: The National and State Perspective and the Report of the Virginia Climate Survey are online at