Opinion polls underestimate Americans' concern about the environment, study finds

May 13, 2010, Stanford University

When pollsters ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country, the environment is rarely mentioned. But this time-honored polling question masks the public's true concern about environmental issues, according to Stanford University researchers.

"For years, the wording used in traditional surveys has systematically underestimated the priority that the public has placed on global warming and the ," said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of at Stanford. "To fully understand public concern about these issues, traditional surveys should be asking a different question."

In a recent study, Krosnick and his colleagues focused on what public opinion experts call the "most important problem" (MIP) question. Developed by pollster George Gallup in the 1930s, the MIP question has become a staple of many national surveys.

As an example, the researchers cited the following question from a September 2009 New York Times/CBS News Poll: "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?"

In that poll, only 1 percent of respondents mentioned the environment, while 41 percent said the economy or jobs. "In prior surveys going back to 2007, the percentage of those who mentioned environmental issues never rose above 3 percent," Krosnick said. "These results seem to suggest that few if any Americans place top priority on the government dealing with global warming or the environment."

But the Stanford study revealed that when the question was reframed in terms of the most serious problem facing the planet if left unchecked, the environment and global warming rose to the top. "How a question is phrased can significantly change the results," said Krosnick, a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

Internet survey

For the Stanford study, the research team analyzed the results of two national surveys. The first was a September 2009 Internet poll of 906 adults. Respondents were randomly asked one of the following open-ended questions:

  1. "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?"
    In this traditional MIP question, about 49 percent answered the economy or unemployment, while only 1 percent mentioned the environment or global warming.
  2. "What do you think is the most important problem facing the world today?"
    Substituting the word "country" with "world" produced a significant change: 7 percent mentioned environmental issues, while 32 percent named the economy or unemployment.
  3. "What do you think will be the most important problem facing the world in the future?"
    When asked to consider the future of the planet, 14 percent chose the environment or global warming, while economic issues slipped to 21 percent.
  4. "What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?"
    This time, 25 percent said the environment or global warming, and only 10 percent picked the economy or unemployment.
"Thus, when asked to name the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it, one-quarter of all Americans mentioned either global warming or the environment," Krosnick said. "In fact, were cited more often in response to question 4 than any other category, including terrorism, which was only mentioned by 10 percent of respondents."

Stanford-AP Environment Poll

The researchers found similar results when they analyzed a November 2009 telephone survey of 1,055 adults sponsored by the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Associated Press (AP).

When asked the traditional MIP question, "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today," 54 percent said economic issues, and just 2 percent mentioned environmental problems.

But when asked, "What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it," only 16 percent named the economy and unemployment, while 21 percent said global warming and the environment.

The Sanford-AP Environment Poll also asked, "How much effort do you think the federal government in Washington should put into dealing with the serious problems the world will face in the future if nothing is done to stop them?" Three out of four respondents said they wanted the government to devote "a great deal" or "a lot" of effort to combat serious problems, such as global warming, in the future.

"Contrary to what traditional surveys suggest, we found strong evidence that Americans attach a great deal of significance to and the environment," Krosnick said. "Therefore, to accurately measure the American public's issue priorities, it may be useful for national surveys to include alternative questions that emphasize future problems and their solutions."

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1.7 / 5 (12) May 13, 2010
Climategate exposed the deceit behind Al Gore's and the UN's IPCC propaganda of CO2-induced global warming.

Look at the high level of energy consumption and CO2 generation of Al Gore's new mansion!

What a sad day for environmental science!

Oliver K. Manuel
4.6 / 5 (5) May 13, 2010
The actions of a very few parties in this debate could be interpreted as less-than-ethical, but that would depend on one's ideological stance, for the most part(since no-one has been convicted of or dismissed for wrongdoing). This does not make it a "sad day for environmental science" -it requires a pretty broad brush to tar an entire area of scientific inquiry.

You could have said that the BP executives were having a bonus party when the Deepwater Horizon exploded into flames, killed several people, collapsed, and started spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico....

What a sad day for geochemical science!

Both statements are equally ironic.

Or, you could have commented on the actual Content of the article- the well-known conundrum of survey response being linked to the phrasing of survey questions, and therefore the questionable validity of surveys themselves....
1.3 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
If nothing done to stop it, there would be plenty of nutjobs smuggling and detonating nuclear warheads in the cities. Everything eventually becomes a commodity, that gets me very worried.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Consider landmark paper
J. H. Mercer, "West Antarctic ice Sheet and CO2 Greenhouse Effect-Threat of Disaster," Nature 271 (5643), 321-325 (1978)
(Available online:
hailed by environmental crowd for its prediction of 5K temperature increase in the antarctic within 50 years. Here we go, 32 years later, and not a fraction of a degree of temperature change! Climate dudes (the term "scientist" doesn't apply) are clearly embarrassed by the lack of warming (part of which was exposed in the scandal).
3.2 / 5 (9) May 13, 2010
Ah, hello TegiriTroll. Nice of you to ignore everything that PinkElephant spelled out in very small words for you in a previous forum, and to bring it up here like you have something unique to bring to this discussion.

What year is it? What kind of things have they learned about Antarctic climate in the last 10 years, not to mention the 32 years you're ignoring? Go away.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Somebody asked a reference, and I supplied it -- what is your problem? Do you want to pursue the other debunking venue? Wattsupwiththat provides plenty!

Let me summarize the that discussion with PinkElephant:
Me: Here is *influential* *pier reviewed* article published in *Nature*
PinkElephant: Well, they didn't know what they were doing at that time, now we have supercomputers! Besides there is ozone and methane!
Me: Come on clutching at straws of gases that has less than 25% radiation impact?
1.4 / 5 (5) May 13, 2010
I'm sorry that Climategate became a political issue, instead of a (hopefully polite) discussion of statistical analysis methods between scientists. Unfortunately the IPCC chose to headline a particularly bad example, that many statisticians had already "debunked."

If you are curious, the main error was to use statistics which assumed normal distributions when analyzing time series. There are different statistical methods for TSA, and they give much different answers than the hockey stick for recent global temperatature data. Hmmm. Let me phrase it this way, autocorrelation does not mean that one series can be used as a proxy for another in estimating global temperature, it merely means that the two series have similar inputs for all global variables, such as rainfall and moisture levels. Thus the Mann, et. al. graph wiped out the mini-Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period.

Doesn't say that global warming doesn't exist. It does. But is it caused by humans? Probably not.
3 / 5 (8) May 13, 2010
Good job, TegiriTroll, you used Watts' House of Fail as a source? The guy attempted to use snow fall as a measure of how AGW was wrong.

eachus: Are you totally unaware of the other studies that have been compared to the original MBH98 study and instead decided to shoot your wad on a bunch of BS taken from denier bloggers? http://www.realcl...#figures
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
So what does your theory predict: more snow or less? You can't have it both ways!
3.2 / 5 (9) May 13, 2010
AGW doesn't predict snow fall at all, especially local weather patterns. You really are a simpleton, aren't you? This is another example of how you (and most other deniers) don't seem to be able to understand the differences between climate and weather.
3 / 5 (8) May 13, 2010
For those that might be concerned that TigiriTroll has a point about Antarctica, please see this thread:
He proved nothing, except for the fact that he has no facts, just empty allegations and old science.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
How else can you prove that climate is changing if it doesn't affect weather? Enlighten me please, if increasing temperatures are expected to shatter any records. If they are, tell me why the list by continent
are distributed evenly during 20th century (and not a single one is broken in this century).
3 / 5 (8) May 13, 2010
How else can you prove that climate is changing if it doesn't affect weather?

You don't know a thing about the issue, do you?
Enlighten me please

I can't, you're too dense.
if increasing temperatures are expected to shatter any records

Back to the same point as before, weather is only a small part of climate, climate is not weather. Do you even remotely understand atmospheric layers and how observable weather is but a small part of it? It is pretty obvious from your comments that the answer to that question is no, you don't have a clue and you really don't seem to have an honest curiosity about it.
1.7 / 5 (6) May 13, 2010
...just empty allegations and *old* science

Don't make a fool of yourself, Jay. Greenhouse effect has been discovered in 19 century, so by no means it is a "new" science. Atmospheric physics textbooks list about 500 processes (1) and their complex interaction puts modeling onto shaky ground.
2.7 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
The greenhouse effect has been discovered in 19th century, and by no means it is a rocket science.

And? What is your point? The greenhouse effect is a small part of climate science. You do understand the greenhouse effect is only about the absorption of energies of certain wavelengths, right? Or does that have to be explained in small words for you?
It is a complex interaction of multiple physical processes (atmospheric physics textbook lists about 500!) that makes any prediction/modeling extremely challenging.

Why do you keep repeating this factoid? Do you think it makes you look like you actually know something? It is nothing more than trivia unless you put it into perspective.
It has extremely poor record

It does? Citation please. If you're talking about how some of the recent models didn't take into account the El Nino events, then yeah, you're kinda correct, but you're still not right.
2.7 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Atmospheric physics textbooks list about 500 processes (1) and their complex interaction puts modeling onto shaky ground.

Your incredulity isn't proof of anything other than your own inability to grasp the science and the hard work that others are putting into this topic. It is a better measure of your weakness, rather than any of theirs.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Oh, I see, "weather is not a climate" and, therefore, "climate change" (TM) has no observable effects. Or, rather it has, but only those endorsed by exclusive club of true believers (hurricanes,droughts,fires). How convenient!
3 / 5 (8) May 13, 2010
Oh, I see, "weather is not a climate" and, therefore, "climate change" (TM) has no observable effects. Or, rather it has, but only those endorsed by exclusive club of true believers (hurricanes,droughts,fires). How convenient!

More incredulity that shows just how limited you are in your thinking.

Climate change is noted by long term patterns of changes in weather, temperature and other observable effects. It is nearly impossible to take single events of weather and attribute it to climate change or a butterfly fart in Brazil.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
"Patterns of change"? Give me a break. Try submitting a paper (in any science field unconnected to AGW), and watch what kind of reviews will you get for this vague and nebulous "pattern of change".
3 / 5 (6) May 13, 2010
What do you think "extreme weather events" are based upon, other than a short-term patterns of change? Do you understand gradients and rates of changes and how those are the actual points of temperature monitoring? Let me just think of some areas of science that use "patterns of change" where I could get published:

-Vaccination rates and prevalence of preventable disease in relation to population density.
-Mercury fallout changes in regions downwind of coal-fired plants in relation to EPA regulation changes.
-Infant mortality rates in ARM processors based on 50nm semiconductor processes.
-Main river channel flow rates through Powder River basin.
-Silverbark tree survival post-introduction of wolves in Greater Yellowstone Park

How many science fields did I cover there? Enough?
1.6 / 5 (7) May 13, 2010
Why focus on gradients when values would suffice? Why you insist that in climate field somehow derivatives are superior to absolute ones? To obscure the subject? OK, let's play your little game: do you know that according to GW theory polar regions are expected to warm the most, therefore, *decreasing* temperature gradients? We well know that tornadoes are caused by temperature difference between Gulf of Mexico and Arctic air mass entering central plains. I'm not sure there is consensus on hurricanes, are they affected by absolute temperature, or gradients. So, how would diminished gradients cause increased frequency or intensity of tornadoes and hurricanes?
3 / 5 (8) May 13, 2010
How do gradients obscure the subject? Your entire premise is faulty and again shows your incredible lack of knowledge of the topic. The hockey stick isn't alarming because of the 0.6 degree C increase, it is alarming because the gradient is unlikely to occur naturally. If it weren't for the sharp increase, it would just be taken as the natural variability of the climate, probably due to the recovery from the last ice age.

I don't know why I'm explaining that simple point, I would have assumed that was well understood by anyone attempting to discuss the issue of climate change.
1.9 / 5 (9) May 14, 2010
The hockey stick isn't alarming because of the 0.6 degree C increase, it is alarming because the gradient is unlikely to occur naturally.

It certainly is not natural, it's Mann-made!
If you still believe in the Hockeystick there is not point in commenting on any other points you make. You are either an idiot or a devil's advocate. After seeing some of your posts I am inclined to go with the former. Or, a mixture of both.
3 / 5 (8) May 14, 2010
@Mikiwud: Why? What is wrong with Mann's analysis, either MBH98 or MBH03 and its subsequent alignment with other proxies? On this site you've posted ZERO citations to anything resembling fact. Can you start now or will you run away like a troll?
3 / 5 (8) May 14, 2010
The hockey stick was a statistical modeling error. This has been called out by people on both sides of the AGCC debate and certified by people with more intellectual integrity than any of us can prove we have. This doesn't mean that AGCC is invalidated or that it is valid.

Like Pons and Fleischmans' quackery isn't indicitive that LENR is impossible, the Hockey stick's invalidity proves nothing other than Mann made a mistake (intentional or not).

Let's move on to data sets and models that are a full 12 years more modern and relevent, ie: current events.
5 / 5 (3) May 14, 2010
I like how this article has provided yet another opportunity for the ususal AGW bickering, but isn't anyone concerned that the article reveals just how easy it is to shape public opinion through the use of- and I'll be nice- "disengenuous" polling methods?

Depending on which side of the AGW debate you position yourself- you may feel that this manipulation is totally legitimate AND justified.

But what happens when it distorts the truth surrounding a different issue- say, education, or abortion, or financial regulation- so as to make it appear that public opinion is OVERWHELMINGLY counter to yours- even in the face of the facts?

This cuts both ways, and falsehood, deception, and manipulation are evils to be despised and denounced by all- regardless of ideology.
3.5 / 5 (8) May 14, 2010
Eh, public opinion isn't all that important to actual science, after all. It may have a temporary effect on some funding sources, but when actual scientists are appointed to positions to make determinations based on the science itself, then the funding adjusts.

As for SH's statement of the validity of the statistical methods that were used in the original MBH98, he is only partially correct. The actual statistical method used PCA due to the noisy initial data:

But yes, we can move on, except the deniers never do. They keep refering right back to the failed attempt by McIntyre and McKitric (2003). Wouldn't it be nice to find an honest denier that is willing to move beyond that?
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2010
But yes, we can move on, except the deniers never do. They keep refering right back to the failed attempt by McIntyre and McKitric (2003). Wouldn't it be nice to find an honest denier that is willing to move beyond that?

Yes, by all means- everyone reboot to NOW!
2 / 5 (3) May 15, 2010
But yes, we can move on, except the deniers never do. They keep refering right back to the failed attempt by McIntyre and McKitric (2003). Wouldn't it be nice to find an honest denier that is willing to move beyond that?

Hi, still here. Then again I'm still more of an agnostic than a denier. I'm well aware that the holocaust happened. Wouldn't it be nice if we could move beyond calling people "denier" simply because they're not compelled by the evidence? Now if the evidence was a 100% guide, I'd call them denialists as well, however, there are still a few holes in our understanding, rather large holes.
5 / 5 (3) May 15, 2010
Now let me also say, the science is becomming more compelling now that the models are more precise and the datasets are becomming far clearer after the renewed transparency practices since UEA and so forth.

The data has hit the hands of many more skeptical people, like myself, and we're starting to see and understand the indications more clearly.

There's still room to not accept the hypothesis but Jones did say it best. "The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing..."

Make no mistake, it has gotten warmer, and I can't account for it through solar or volcanic forcings either.
1 / 5 (5) May 16, 2010
...the "Hockey Stick" still stands...

Only if one adheres to the cutoff date advocated by Mann does it even come close to representing the facts accurately.

Go back a number of years and we still are not where it was during the MWP, temperature-wise.

Take a look at Vostok, GISP2, Tasmania, New Zealand, and unaltered Finland proxy data and we see the same thing.

Take a look at other regions of Greenland and we see that the present warming there is by no means unprecedented. We, in fact, see that the warmest decade there was 1920-1930, that the warmest year there was 1941, and that it warmed 50% faster way back then than it has from 1995-2005.

My biggest concern is over what we do to the ocean with our chemical toxins, followed by worries about what all that SF6 will do to the planet when fullscale solar projects get under way and we dump additional SF6, over 34,000 times the GHG CO2 is molecule for molecule and many times the 'life' thereof, into the atmosphere.
1 / 5 (5) May 21, 2010
Hockey-stick-like graph appearing in GISP2 data (without years cut off by Mann):

GISP2 with years cut off by Mann added back to the graph for comparison:

GISP2 "raw" data for control and comparison in the event that one doubts the charts because of the location thereof (use any graphing or spreadsheet software to create a comparison graph):
1 / 5 (5) May 21, 2010
Paper showing that rises in temperature in 1920-1930 were almost 50% faster than in 1995-2005, and that that decade was the warmest decade in Greenland:


Don't ignore the content of the paper because Soon posted it on his website. This paper has zero to do with Soon or with his views. Get it while you can as I do not know how long it can or will stay there on that server.
3.4 / 5 (5) May 21, 2010
And the dachytroll sockpuppet still doesn't understand the global part of AGW.
1 / 5 (5) May 22, 2010
And the dachytroll sockpuppet still doesn't understand the global part of AGW.

No, ignorant troll, I fully understand the meaning of global. You just misunderstand what it is that I am saying. It is not surprising anymore, really.
1 / 5 (4) May 22, 2010
Paradise Lake (in the Himalayas) proxies and the MWP discussed here:


As can be seen from this there is evidence from other regions in the Northern Hemisphere of the more widespread nature of the MWP outside of Europe.

Additional evidence for MWP of a global nature in Oroko Swamp proxies in New Zealand:


I could multiply the evidence for the global nature of the MWP. The evidence taken overall shows the same and/or similar kinds of trends are to be seen in Southern Hemisphere proxies as are recorded in Northern Hemisphere proxies. That makes it more or less global in nature, contra Mann's data modified beyond recognition in his most recent paper.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 26, 2010
Off course I should have told you about the intense cold spell In New Zealand that occurred at the same time the Vikings were growing coconuts and dates in Greenland, especially curious as it is written in one of the links I supplied:
" [13] Of equal interest in the reconstruction is the sharp
and sustained cold period in the A.D. 993–1091 interval.This cold event is easily the most extreme to have occurred over the past 1,100 years."

Maybe one day I will admit that Mann and fellow proxie studies have found the 'hockey stick' to be an accurate representation of GLOBAL temperatures but then I know shack jit and only want to annoy you instead of putting forward well thought out scientific arguments :)

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