What Americans say about recent climate events in the US

September 22, 2020, 4:17 PM UTC

With about a hundred wildfires burning in the West, and the possibility of a record for the number of hurricanes in one season in the East, Americans must deal once again with the prospect that global climate change is affecting weather and causing more severe natural disasters. The President reminded Americans on a visit to California that he is a climate change skeptic, at least when it comes to climate change’s impact on the California wildfires. Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll are more likely to see the current two climate crises as the result of global climate change than the opposite, though responses on this question continue to be divided sharply along partisan lines. 

Those who live in the West are especially likely to believe that global climate change is causing the Western fires. But even in the West the partisan difference remains. Two in three Democrats attribute the severity of wildfires to climate change; two-thirds of Republicans disagree. The general perceptions of whether climate change exists, and if it does, what causes it, have been mostly unaffected by natural disasters like the recent fires and hurricanes.

About half the public believes that the world is becoming warmer and that this is caused by human activity. Another fifth agrees the world is warming, but says human behavior is not the reason. That leaves one in ten who don’t believe the world is becoming warmer. Just 4 percent of Democrats say this, compared with 20 percent of Republicans. Those opinions have changed little in recent years.

Not only do most Democrats believe climate change is occurring, but they also see it as a very important problem: Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans to describe climate change and the environment as a “very important” issue for them.

In fact, Democrats rank climate change and the environment as their second most important issue overall, behind only health care. One in five Democrats (20%) name it as their most important issue, compared with just 1 percent of Republicans. 

Republicans are skeptical of the motivations of many climate scientists. Many Republicans believe they are influenced by their own political leanings most of the time (43% vs. 13% of Democrats); most Democrats believe the best available scientific evidence affects climate scientists’ opinions most of the time (63% vs. 20% of Republicans).

There is more trust today that scientists use the best available evidence than there was in 2016, when the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press asked the same questions.


See the toplines and tables results from this week’s Economist/YouGov survey 

 Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between September 13 - 15, 2020. 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 3.4% for the overall sample.