Americans link recent severe weather events to climate change

July 09, 2021, 5:48 PM UTC

Within the last six months, weather events have continued to solidify Americans’ beliefs in the existence of climate change and its link to human activity. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, nine in ten Americans (91%) say the climate is changing, with six in ten (61%) attributing the cause to human activity.  

Those last few months have brought drought, cold snaps and heat waves in places that don’t usually see them, along with wildfires and hurricanes. Half the public attributes these recent weather events to climate change (51%), while just over a third (36%) say these are the sorts of things that just happen from time to time.

On these questions Republicans, while agreeing that the climate is changing (82%), don’t see a human cause for it (50%), and do not see it as the cause of recent weather events (69%). Republicans have never accepted that link in Economist/YouGov polls. This partisan spread has been consistent for several years, and in this poll, fewer Republicans (21%) than Americans overall (44%) believe they have been personally affected by climate change.  

However, seeing and feeling the events associated with climate change makes a difference in partisan opinions. Democrats (90%), Independents (84%) and even Republicans (68%) who believe they have personally seen the effects of climate change are more likely to say climate change is real and caused by human activity.    

The West is particularly sensitive to the personal effects of climate change (59%). Many Westerners have been personally affected by the California drought (33% of Westerners say that has affected them personally) and the recent heat dome in the Northwest (32% have been personally affected by that).   

Those in the Northeast and Midwest were most likely to be affected by the polar vortex (24% and 28% respectively). Those in the South have personally experienced the Texas cold snap (23%) and hurricanes (23%).  

Only one case, that of rising sea levels, is attributed to climate change by a majority (53%) of the public.  Americans are more willing to categorize heat events as due to climate change than they are to describe intense cold that way. Just under half believe the Northwest heat wave (46%) and the California drought (44%) are the result of climate change, but just 37% think that’s the case with the polar vortex.  

Climate Change
 

As for the future, more than half believe they will feel the effects of climate change in their lifetimes, but politics matters. More than four in five (85%) Democrats but only 29% of Republicans believe climate change will ever affect them personally.  

Most Republicans (53%) doubt that they will see potentially major climate change impact on sea levels, intense storms, agriculture impact, or changes in living conditions in general. An overwhelming number of Democrats and about half of Independents expect each to occur in their lifetimes. 

Northeasterners are more likely to expect rising sea levels (55%), while most Westerners (55%) expect an impact on agriculture.  

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll  

Related: Approval of the Supreme Court dropped after last week’s decisions 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between July 3 - 6, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.8% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty