This article is the fourth in a series that will analyze Gallup's latest March update on Americans' views on climate change and examine how these views have changed over time. The series will explore public opinion on the severity and importance of climate change, its causes and effects, the extent of Americans' understanding of the issue, and much more.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even as most Americans report experiencing abnormal weather conditions lately, more than four in 10 say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated in the news. These sentiments are lower than the record 48% who believed this four years ago, but higher than any year before Barack Obama became president.
Though the largest share of Americans specifically describe reports on the seriousness of global warming as exaggerated, a slim majority collectively see these reports as generally correct (23%) or generally underestimated (33%). On this basis, most Americans seem to accept that global warming is at least as serious a problem as news reports say it is. Viewed still another way, fully three-quarters of the country believe that reports about global warming are mistaken -- for better or worse.
These results come from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 6-9. Since 2011, attitudes about the perceived seriousness of global warming have been steady, but public opinion has changed notably since Gallup first asked the question in 1997. Fewer Americans now say the seriousness of global warming is generally correct; at the same time, the percentage finding the threat generally exaggerated has increased, and since 2009 has consistently been at or above 40%, a mark it never reached in the years before.
Views on Seriousness of Global Warming Vary by Party
Opinions about global warming vary by party identification, with Democrats typically more worried than Republicans about global warming and its potentially harmful effects on the environment. Democrats are most likely to say the seriousness of global warming is generally underestimated in the news, with about half (49%) saying so. Another 32% of Democrats believe reports about global warming are generally correct. Less than one-fifth (18%) find that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.
When GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions recently said the threat of global warming has been subjected to "a lot of exaggeration," he spoke for a commanding majority of self-identified Republicans. Nearly seven in 10 (68%) agree that the threat is generally exaggerated, while 15% say it is generally correct and 15% say it is generally underestimated. Views among independents break closer to national numbers.
Six in 10 Say Most Scientists Believe Global Warming is Happening
While political disagreements on the veracity and severity of global warming continue, a broad swath of Americans (60%) agree that most scientists believe global warming is occurring, with only 8% saying most scientists believe that global warming is not occurring. Still others, 29%, are unsure if a scientific consensus exists at all.
While these findings differ little from last year, the percentage of Americans saying most scientists believe global warming is real did dip in the early years of the Obama administration. Those figures have since rebounded, but not to 2007-2008 levels.
Partisanship is a major factor in these attitudes as well. Forty-two percent of Republicans say most scientists believe global warming is occurring, compared with 82% of Democrats. Another 43% of Republicans believe most scientists aren't sure about global warming, a position only 14% of Democrats accept.
The American public has a complicated view of global warming -- most believe it is happening, but most do not think it will seriously affect their way of life and many do not attribute severe or unusual weather events to this phenomenon. While a majority view the reported seriousness as generally correct or underestimated, a sizable and, since 2009, heightened percentage see the threat as generally exaggerated.
The seriousness of global warming is viewed through the all-too-familiar prism of political party affiliation, suggesting this issue will continue to divide Americans rather than serve as a cause that will allow "Congress to come together and develop a bipartisan road map to confront this problem," as Democratic Sen. Mark Udall recently said. It is unlikely the two parties can agree on any road map when they can't even agree on whether or where they need to go.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 6-9, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,048 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.