Another day, another survey

And today we have less positive numbers. This is a newer poll of 1500 Americans, conducted by Abt/SRBI Inc. for the Pew Research Center [LINK]. This poll is a repeat of earlier ones focused on global warming (the science and the policy). The interesting part is that the Pew Center is reporting on the trends over the past few years, showing that there has been a strong decrease in the belief that global warming is supported by solid evidence and a decrease in the belief that global warming is a very serious problem. The numbers seem to suggest that this signal is mostly carried by the 365 Republicans and the 543 Independents in the survey, but even the 473 Democrats show a decline.

The news is not all bad, and not all contradictory to the older survey I reported on yesterday [LINK]. Despite the decline, the survey shows that 57% of respondent think there is solid evidence the earth is warming, and 65% think it is somewhat or very serious. That's a strong majority. Things get a bit dicier when you consider that only 36% believe there is solid evidence the earth is warming because of human activity; this is a ridiculously low number, and Jim Hoggan thinks this has a lot to do with the well-funded anti-environment, pro-coal lobby [LINK]. The other positive result is that of the participants 50% favor limits on carbon emissions, even if it means higher energy prices. Even more people, 56% of the participants, say that the USA should join other countries in global initiatives to address global warming.

Okay.... but wait a minute. Let me just state that I'm skeptical of the robustness of these results. To be fair, there is a plus or minus 3% on all of these, according to the methodology [LINK]. But even with that in mind, I have to wonder how 50% of the responses favor limiting emissions to address global warming and 56% want global action while only 35% of people think global warming is a "very serious" problem and only 36% think there is "solid evidence" of human-caused global warming. Maybe people are just really pragmatic about environmental policy, so they favor erring on the side of action because of the large risk. I'd support this, as it seems the most rational response (in the absence of "solid" evidence (of which there actually is a mountain)), as discussed in this video. I'm pretty sure people are not nearly that pragmatic nor rational, so I have to wonder whether there is something else happening. I don't really have an alternate hypothesis. One would be a biased sample, but the methodology does seem pretty good (but I'm no expert). A second alternative is that Jim Hoggan is right, but this just seems a little to conspiratorial. Another possibility is that in the past year or so Americans have gotten a little bit edgy because the economy went nuts, and now they are a bit shaken up, not knowing what to think about things like global warming. If this were the case, we'd see a shift in the numbers toward the more moderate or the "don't know" position. However, looking at the responses from April 2008 and October of 2009, the percent of people who think the earth is warming (at all) went from 71% to 57%, and the number of people who think there is not warming went from 21% to 33%. That'd pretty much mean people have changed their minds. However, the question is stated as:
From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?
So we are restricted to "solid" evidence, so we can not reject my moderation hypothesis.

In this case, I think that we have to take these results with the figurative grain of salt. What would be more informative is to see the results showing whether people have shifted to what they might perceive as the more moderate position. Is there "solid", "compelling", "preliminary", "unconvincing", or no evidence at all that the earth is warming? My guess is that what has really happened is that people, in a haze of fear of the economy collapsing, have shifted to the more conservative position, adopting a more "wait and see" attitude. However, some of their previous thinking remains, and they are taking the more pragmatic position on action because of this. In fact, as a bit of evidence that this is the case, we can look at the follow up question:
Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, or mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment?
The "human activity" answer changed from 47% to 36%, but the "natural patterns" stayed about steady, going from 18% to 16%. If Hoggan's conspiracy were the correct mechanism for the change in opinion, then more people would be jumping on the "natural patterns" bandwagon, since that is a very prevalent denial argument. Instead, I would suggest people are just feeling more skeptical about issues that they don't know much about (e.g., the economy, global warming, etc). Either way, it will be interesting to watch how public opinion changes in the coming months. And the fact that still half of Americans are in favor of action supports my repeated call for the current government to actually do something.

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