American belief in climate change surges 10 points after hot summer — poll

Nearly two thirds of respondents blamed climate change for the season of extreme weather

Wildfire haze blankets New York Harbor ©  Getty Images / David Dee Delgado

Nearly two thirds of Americans who say they have dealt with “extreme weather” now believe manmade climate change is responsible, according to a poll published on Monday by the Associated Press and NORC. The results show a 10-point increase in such beliefs since April.

While just 54% of respondents to a similar poll in April blamed anthropogenic climate change for extreme weather events they had experienced in recent years, that figure had increased to 64% when AP conducted a survey in September. The intervening summer — from June to August — was the hottest ever measured in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The share of Americans who had experienced at least one extreme weather event (defined as drought, extreme heat, severe storms, wildfires, flooding, and/or tornadoes) also increased over the summer, from 79% in April to 87% in September. Fully 74% said they had experienced extreme heat in the past five years by September, compared to just 55% in April.

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In addition to the record heat wave, this summer saw fires in Canada blanket much of the its southern neighbor with thick, foul-smelling orange smoke for days at a time. It was also the country’s worst wildfire season ever. Six out of 10 poll respondents said the wildfire smoke — which temporarily sent cities like New York and Detroit to the top of the global air quality danger list — had impacted them somewhat or very much.

While 74% of Americans believe Earth’s climate is changing, 61% of those say the shift is due to human activity, while 10% posit that it is natural and 29% blame humans and nature equally, according to the poll.

The divide was most pronounced between political parties, with 93% of self-identified Democrats who said they had experienced extreme weather attributing it to climate change, compared to 48% of Republicans. 

While half of poll respondents said they had become more concerned about climate change in the last year, that group was heavily weighted toward Democrats, with 74% of self-identified party members expressing increased concern compared to just 27% of Republicans. Americans over the age of 60 were also more likely to report increased worry over the phenomenon.

The survey revealed that experience of extreme weather events are far more influential to Americans’ views on climate change than science — and equally as influential as the combined forces of political leaders, news coverage and advocacy groups. Some 52% of respondents admitted to being swayed by the recent meteorological chaos, while just 10% said they heeded politicians’ statements on the issue.


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