Seeing may be believing. Americans are much more likely to see climate change as the cause of recent extreme weather events if they say they were personally affected by them. As to whether Americans say they were among those affected by the recent storms and other events? Democrats are far more likely to say they were affected than are Republicans in the same region.
In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, just about half the country claims to have experienced at least one of the dramatic weather events of the last few weeks – including drought and wildfires in the West, hurricanes and flooding in the East. One in four (24%) say they personally experienced severe hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard. Wildfires (20%), floods (20%), and the drought (18%) each affected about one in five. Nearly one in ten (9%) say they have been personally affected by rising sea levels.
Recent experience of natural disasters is highest in the West (69% were personally affected) and in the Northeast, where 56% were personally affected.
Whether people perceive they have been affected by recent weather events is closely tied to political party — even for people living in the same region. For example, in the West, where the largest share of the population says they have been affected, a majority of Republicans (55%) agree they have experienced the drought or fires, but that is 26 points lower than the 81% of Democrats in the West who say so. The party gap in the Northeast is 30 points: 71% of Northeastern Democrats and 41% of Northeastern Republicans have experienced one or more recent weather event.
People who say they were personally affected by recent extreme weather events are more concerned about climate change as an issue: As many name it as name health care as the country’s most important issue, above all other polled issues. They are also more optimistic than Americans overall that governments and individuals can take effective action to slow climate change.
And they are more likely to think that climate change exists and it is caused by people (67% compared to 54% of all Americans).
Some Americans say climate change exists; more think it exists but doubt people cause it. A majority (54%) believes climate change is real and caused by human activity, while about one in four (24%) agree that the climate is changing but not because of human activity. Fewer than one in ten (7%) say the world’s climate is not changing. The share of Americans who say the climate is changing and that it is caused by people is consistent across age groups. Nearly three in four Republicans say the climate is changing (73%), but just 27% of Republicans attribute climate change to human activity.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between September 4 - 7, 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.