Americans – particularly Republicans – are usually skeptical about government numbers, but recent data on global temperatures might be an exception.
One week ago, Americans expressed skepticism about the quality of government statistics. Less than a third believed that most or all of government statistics were reliable and accurate. But this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll suggests that Americans sometimes do believe the government, and when statistics about climate change come from agencies like NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (the National Aeronautic and Space Administration), it can even change minds.
A majority of Americans say they believe all or most of the statistics about air and ocean temperatures from NOAA and NASA are reliable and accurate, 26 points more than said that last week about government statistics in general. Belief in the data put out by NOAA and NASA was high for both Democrats and Republicans. 74% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans say all or most of those statistics are accurate. Last week, just 31% of Republicans believed that about government statistics in general.
What NOAA and NASA said last week, in independent analyses, was that global temperatures in 2014 were highest since temperatures were first recorded – more than 100 years ago in 1880. Nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. Most Americans seem to have accepted these data. Those data and the analyses by these agencies may even have changed minds about the existence and the causes of climate change. More today than just a month ago believe climate change is taking place and is caused by human activity. Most of that change has come from Republicans: just 27% accepted that a month ago, now 42% agree.
Three in four Democrats and about half of independents, both this week and a month ago, believe climate changes is real, and caused by human activity.
There also appears to be a greater urgency in the need to address climate change. Two-thirds, including a majority of Republicans, say the world’s most developed countries have a greater responsibility than less developed countries to control greenhouse gases, and similar percentages also agree that developed countries have a responsibility to help poorer nations with the effects of climate change. Last month, Republicans were divided on both questions. Only 40% of Republicans said there was a responsibility to help poorer countries with the effects of climate change. Now, 53% agree.
There has always been more trust in what climate scientists say about climate change than there has been trust in other actors statements – Americans don’t trust what politicians (Democratic or Republican), government officials or the military say. Oil and gas company representatives are viewed as even less trustworthy. This week, after NASA and NOAA weighed in on the side of climate scientists, nearly half trust climate scientists a lot or completely, up from 43% a month ago. There is significantly less skepticism from Republicans this week than before: more than a third of Republicans, 37%, say they trust climate scientists only a little or not at all this week, but that is a drop from the 53% of Republicans who said this in December.
The NOAA and NASA scientists’ findings also may have added to the acceptance that there is a scientific consensus about climate change. Most Republicans and Democrats now agree that there is a consensus in the scientific community that climate change is occurring and that it is caused by human behavior. The change has been most dramatic among Republicans. In December, just 35% of Republicans believed there was a consensus among scientists; now 52% do.
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.