Americans recognize climate change but split on human impact and scientific consensus, says a new poll

CBS News logoAmericans generally acknowledge the reality of climate change, but remain split over the role of human activity and the existence of a scientific consensus, according to a new poll from CBS News (September 15, 2019), released as part of Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of more than 250 news outlets around the world providing in-depth coverage of the climate story.

Asked, "Which best describes your view about climate change — that is, the idea that the Earth is currently experiencing a long-term change in average global temperatures and weather patterns," 91 percent of respondents answered in a way that acknowledged the reality of climate change.

In particular, 29 percent of respondents preferred "Happening because of human activity," 23 percent preferred "Happening because of natural patterns in the Earth's cycles," 39 percent "Happening because of both human activities and natural patterns," while only 9 percent instead preferred "Not happening."

A similar split was evident in a different question. Asked, "From what you have heard or read, how much do you think human activity contributes to long-term changes in the earth's climate," 44 percent of respondents preferred "A lot," 27 preferred "Some," 20 percent preferred "Not much," and 9 percent preferred "Not at all."

Asked, "Which comes closer to how you feel about the scientific evidence regarding climate change," 52 percent preferred "Almost all climate scientists agree that human activity is a main cause of climate change," while 48 percent preferred "There is still disagreement among scientists about whether human activity is a main cause of climate change."

Consistent with previous polls, there was a partisan divide on these questions. CBS News noted, for example, "Three in four Democrats say almost all scientists agree that human activity is a main cause of climate change, while nearly the same number of Republicans think there is still disagreement among scientists."

According to CBS News, the poll was "conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,143 U.S. residents interviewed between September 6 and 10, 2019. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education ... as well as 2016 presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is 2.2 pts."

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.