I like data from tracking polls. There is often no “correct” way of asking about a subject and answers can come down to how you word a question, but if you ask a question in the same way over a long period of time then – all things being equal – any significant change you see should reflect a genuine change in public opinion. For that reason I am always very loathe to change the wording of tracking questions, as you are throwing away all that past data and any change you see is as likely to be due to different wording as it is to changing opinion. However, there comes a time when the vocabulary used in the public debate changes, and the wording you’ve used in the past really isn’t the wording you’d use if designing a question today.

In past years YouGov has asked about public opinion towards climate change using this question:

On the subject of climate change do you think:
The world is becoming warmer as a result of human activity
The world is becoming warmer but NOT because of human activity
The world is NOT becoming warmer
Not sure

  • In 2008, 55% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 25% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 7% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 13% weren’t sure.
  • In 2010, 39% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 27% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 18% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 16% weren’t sure.
  • In 2012 43% thought human activity was making the world warmer, 22% thought the world was getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 15% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 20% weren’t sure.
  • Now 39% think human activity was making the world warmer, 16% think the world is getting warmer, but not because of humanity, 28% thought the world was NOT getting warmer. 17% weren’t sure.

For what its worth the percentage of people thinking that human activity is making the world warmer fell between 2008 and 2010, but has been pretty constant for the last 3 years. However, the proportion of people who think the world isn’t getting warmer at all has markedly increased – from just 7% in 2008 to 28% now. This isn’t really surprising given some of the weather we’ve had of late (before anyone points it out, localised weather is Britain is clearly not necessarily reflective of global temperatures… but that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact on public opinion!).

However since 2008 the debate has also changed, and has often concentrated upon wider impacts of climate change, on weather patterns, on making weather more extreme or unpredictable and so on, rather than just the narrower issue of rising global temperatures. You can imagine this may have a significant impact on someone’s answers – there may well be people who think that climate change is happening… but not in the sense of increasing global temperatures. This month YouGov asked two questions in parallel, on two separate samples – one asking about the world getting warmer, the other asking about the world’s climate changing. It produces very different results.

39% of people think human activity is making the world warmer. 53% of people think human activity is changing the world’s climate.
16% think the world is getting warmer, but not because of human activity. 26% think the climate is changing, but NOT because of human activity
28% think the world is NOT getting warmer. 6% think the climate is not changing.


119 Responses to ““Global Warming” or “Climate Change””

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  1. Why no polls on voting intention? I’d have though this an interesting time for them to be held.

  2. Friday touching con 30 lab 42 lib dem 11 ukip 12

  3. Yougov not touching. My kindled keyboard!

  4. The Problem with such polls is there is no such thing as the wisdom of crowds when it comes to cutting edge research.

    No doubt the majority of the Population believed the World was flat a Thousand years ago.

    The only opinion poll that counts in respect of Climate change is a poll of the consensus of opinion of those who actually no something about the subject

  5. @Martin Williams

    “Why no polls on voting intention? I’d have though this an interesting time for them to be held.”

    There have been VI polls but we haven’t had a dedicated discussion thread on one since the 28th March. There was a hiatus over the Easter break but there have been 3 YouGov polls since then on the 3rd, 4th and 5th April. No discussion thread though, which is surprising considering the amount of politicking that has gone on in recent days and the welter of Government reforms on welfare and health that became law this week.

    For what it’s worth, the three YouGov polls this week were:

    3rd April: Con 30 Lab 43 LD 11 UKIP 10 App – 35
    4th April: Con 33 Lab 41 LD 9 UKIP 11 App – 33
    5th April: Con 30 Lab 42 LD 11 UKIP 12 App – 33

    Plenty to go at there I would have thought but you have to dive deep into a thread dedicated to gender gaps to find any discussion on them!

  6. Steve – I don’t think there’s such a thing as wisdom of crowds on immigration, welfare, economics, defence, crime, the NHS, education or anything else we poll about either!

    One should never make the mistake of thinking polls are some sort of reservoir of wisdom or oracle. They don’t give you the *correct* answer – they give you what people think, however ignorant, misguided, ill-informed or downright stupid that answer may be.

  7. AW [Polls] give you what people think.

    Presumably this depends on whether the question is on something people have thought about and is phrased in a way that allows them to express these thoughts accurately. My limited experience of answering polls suggests that in my case these conditions often do not apply.

  8. Any likely further impact on VI from the issue below rumbling on for a while?:

    Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly the country’s top family law judge, has previously backed gay adoption and civil partnerships.

    But she says redefining marriage is an attack on marriage itself, and many of her colleagues in the House of Lords believe the change would be a “step too far”.

    She has told the Government to stop “faffing around with gay marriage” and focus on other family law matters.

    Lady Butler-Sloss will get a chance to vote against the Government’s Bill when it reaches the House of Lords in a few months time.

    She said: “I have always spoken in favour of gay relationships and the rights of gay people”. However she added: “This does seem to me a different issue and one which attacks marriage.”

  9. Interesting results. Thanks, AW.

    It’s quite reassuring that the number of people accepting anthropogenic climate change seems to have remained more or less the same. Take that, daily express!

  10. I agree with AW.

    The question to my mind is whether there is any point in polling on a subject few know anything about, when there is no difference in opinion between the parties for which they are able to vote on that subject.

    AIUI there is no difference.

    Just come in after an absence and just ask folk to read the whole judge’s sentence (I found it on the Guardian’s front page) and decide whether my contention that the Philpott crime was that of the perpetrators and theirs alone, was correct. Her sentence was admirable in lucidity and gives one great confidence, if they are all as bright and down to earth as she.

  11. AW
    Not disputing that However interestingly when you poll what people expect will be the results of an election as opposed to what they would like it to be it is remarkably accurate

  12. Lib Dems certainly out in the vanguard of true believers in AGW.

    I’m not convinced that most people understand the difference between “climate” & “weather”.

    To the average person “weather” is what happens to them locally, and climate is just lots of weather.

    As for “the world” becoming warmer/colder etc-how would the average person know?

  13. Anthony
    If you ask both the new wording and old wording versions of a question in parallel for a while, is it possible to quantify the difference made by the change of wording and then “map” the old data to the new wording? Admittedly this wouldn’t be perfect (e.g. global warming and climate change arent really the same thing!) but at least the old data would be of some use if this cuold be done with some measure of statistical confidence.

  14. UKIP seem to be non-believers or at least sceptics both on global warming and its origins.

    I presume the Dem Us are likely the same and also sundry far right parties.

    The most powerful political party in the world,America’s Republicans, also seems to have shifted into a sceptical position and there’s not much doubt that a lot of those who call themselves ‘conservatives’ in the US certainly are denialists.

    I would be interested to see any evidence we have of the views of our nationally elected representives.I had the impression the right of the Conservative party includes a number of denialists.

    Nigel Lawson runs a hostile campaign that has the support of the Revolutionary Communist Party (or whatever it calls itself these days – Frank Furedi et al).

    Whether any of this is capabale of shifting a single vote here I’m inclined to doubt.In the US I suspect the climate itself will silence the denialists:so many of them are in highly vulnerable South after all.

  15. I think the issue of climate change and global warming divides opinion between the rationalists, those who tend to believe what they understand the empirical and scientific data to be telling them, and the romantics, those who believe what they want to be true. The more extreme romantics, or arch libertarians if you like, actually believe that climate change is a global conspiracy, cooked up by nanny state politicians who just want excuses to tax people and interfere in their lives. They distrust environmentalists and politicians intuitively and will look to evidence, however voodoo-esque, to support the argument that climate change is politically inspired mythology. See far right Republicans and Tea Party activists in the US for stark examples.

    I don’t pretend to understand all the meteorological science surrounding the climate change debate, but it seems to me that there is an awful amount of evidence amassing that the planet is warming up and that man-generated carbon emissions are contributing to the warming. There seems to be a consensus too that we’re hurtling to an irreversible tipping point where the damage and impact on human life grows exponentially.

    I always find it ironic that right wing politicians rail on about the immorality of bequeathing debt to the next generation, one of the key moral imperatives behind austerity they tell us, but seem to have no qualms whatsoever about handing over a busted planet and environment to the very same generation.

  16. Eddie – I suppose you could if there was a very consistent relationship between the two. You probably couldn’t in this case. I bet asking it after a scorcher of a summer would massively reduce the proportion of people saying the world wasn’t getting warmer, but not necessarily have so much effect on the climate change version.

  17. I am one of those who believes that climate change is happening….but whilst we have many governments around the world, including our own, who are not willing to address the most important environmental issue IMO (i.e. an increasing population) I think all the talk about reducing our carbon footprint is nothing but hot air – no pun intended.

  18. Colin

    Very easy for the old men in west Norway to know that there is global warming, there a type of pine which is planted a lot here as a commercial activity but it has to be seeded indoors because the Norwegian climate is too harsh for the seedlings, at least that was the case until recently but now those pines are spreading from the planted forests

  19. I forgot about UKIP in my earlier comment. My problem with taking them as a serious influence at Westminster (I was only thinking of Westminster, of course) is that under FPTP they will not get a parliamentary majority and that is being kind. They are unlikely to get a single MP. I do not doubt that in some circles of the big parties, there are those with differing views; let’s not forget that being an MP does not make one a scientist any more than being a voter does.

    No, my comment was meant to be focussed on the point of polling on issues that will not play a role in VI. How many who will indeed vote for UKIP will have CC or HS2 on their minds, as opposed to disliking foreigners, and how many will vote UKIP even though they disagree on the two issues (and that’s just a ‘for instance’, well two then).

  20. I mean, take the issue of the US and Africa – the US population is forecasted to reach over 1 billion within my lifetime and 2 billion in Africa. This will inevitably mean that more resources i.e. water, wood will be needed, and more forests etc. will be cut down. Indian carbon emissions, for example, are very low per person by Western standard (as, to a lesser extent, are Chinese) but the massive and increasing population is already causing massive problems there and experts there are already talking of large-scale environmental degradation and environmental catastrophe.

    The problem is that even if in Europe we suddenly develop a totally carbon-free lifestyle (impossible IMO) the increasing population elsewhere in the world will mean that carbon emissions globally will still multiply.

    I certainly don’t want the UK to lose its economic competitiveness because of punitive environmental policies. Yes, we need to try our best to reduce emissions in the medium and long-term, but we shouldn’t go above and beyond our European and world neighbours. Without world support, what we choose to do in the UK will have virtually no effect anyway – especially as our emissions make up just 1.75% of the world’s total emissions.

  21. @SEN5C
    “In the US I suspect the climate itself will silence the denialists:so many of them are in highly vulnerable South after all.”
    They’ll just say it’s God’s punishment for gay marriage. A lot of them will even believe it.

  22. There are a lot of people out there not worrying about global warming as UK car sales accelerate. In March sales were estimated at 5.9% above the same month last year. This compared with a 10.5% drop in car sales in Europe on latest figures. Seems to me to indicate some signs of returning consumer confidence in the UK.

  23. @AmbivalentSupporter

    Agree with you last couple of posts on this subject. World population growth is a huge potential problem and on the environment the UK would be plain stupid to adopt punitive environmental policies.

  24. CROSSBAT11

    Entirely agree.

    Worldwide, the average temperature last year was in the 10 warmest ever, (well in the last 350 Years at least) with all of those occurring in the last 15 years.

    However, irrespective of the evidence there will always be those who wish things were not so.
    In the same way as people confuse the Weather with Climate.

    This phenomena is also displayed in other areas of public opinion for example is migration to the UK or membership of the EU is good or bad for the economy .

    Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary opinions can be very intractable.

    From my own experience as a Police Officer in some very dodgy parts of Inner London peoples fear of being a victim of crime overwhelmingly exceeded the likelihood of them actually being a victim of crime.

    I am sure AW can explain this far better than I can.

  25. @ Eddie

    I regret you could well be right although as gay marriage will be enacted state by state they’ll be obliged to concede he’s showing his sense of humour again in hitting back at Maine and Vermont for legalising gay marriage by washing away Lousiana,Florida and Mississippi with his sea and turning Arizona and Texas into uninhabitable desert wth his sun!

    @Howard

    Yes we’re in agreement, including about the likelihood of UKIP ever getting an MP.

  26. Climate change is a sterile argument with various polarised views, given that the earth’s climate has been in a constant state of change since it’s formation ranging from being a planet covered in lava to a planet covered in mile deep ice.
    During the last few hundred thousand years give or take the odd ice age the planets weather has become more benign, having been a farmer growing cereal crops for the last twenty years there have good and bad seasons mostly good, had I been able to travel back a couple of hundred years and spoken to other farmers that farmed on the same land, I suspect they also would have had good and bad years probably blaming the bad on gods will rather than climate change.
    My point is that most peoples opinion on climate change is antidotal based on their experiance in their small part of the world, a few hot summers must be climate warming, a few prolonged cold winters must be climate cooling.
    The problem is the scientific data has been somewhat hijacked by interest groups who have tended to over exaggerate the impact of weather movements with talk of sub tropical summers and mild winters with sea levels rising by several metre’s aided and abetted by the odd disaster movie and the attempt to close down alternative points of view.
    My own view is that the weather is becoming marginally more extreme, whether that’s caused by humans or is just part of the normal turn of the weather over a period of hundreds of years of ups and downs who knows, I can’t see that it really matters, the real problem is population, the planet can support a given number of people, once passed that number we could have the most perfect weather in the universe, it still wouldn’t save us from our own stupidity.

  27. RiN

    Interesting.

    There is a huge body of anecdotal & empirical indicators for a warming phase.

    Given the planetary history of massive climatic change ( from Snow Ball Earth up) over time, and the cycles which have been identified as drivers, climate change per se is entirely to be expected. The only difficulty is pinpointing moments of change in vast periods of time from our perspective of miniscule timeframes.

    As to the question of man’s industrial age effects on this vast & powerful planetary engine of climate-for me the question is about it’s proportion & degree rather than it’s existence.

    I would like to see mankind putting as much effort into adaptation as mitigation.

    The former will become an absolute necessity, whereas the latter is,I fear, like p***ing in the wind.

    ..I’m all in favour of finding fossil fuel replacements , provided they are scaleable, applicable & don’t do yet more damage to wild places & ecosystems.

  28. AS & TOH

    Agree entirely on the issue of human population growth.

  29. @Turk

    As you often do, you have expressed my own views more eloquently than I could.

  30. …….and Turk

  31. From the tables it appears the more to the right the party is the more sceptical its voters are towards climate change!!

  32. Climate change reminds me of the cigarettes cause cancer arguments.

    To me it is fairly likely if you polute your lungs with smoke there will be bad consequences and so with climate change if we polute the armosphere with smoke bad things will happen.

    Yet the it seems that the same groups that did not accept the link between cigs and cancer do not accept climate change.

  33. Another point is that the question should be about climate change not global warming.

    Also, it doesn’t matter what a % of people think there is an underlying scientific reality. Just because 100% of people polled believe in Father Christmas does make him spring into existence. So I am not sure this is actually an opinion poll at all. The existance of climate change isn’t an opinion.

  34. @Allan Christie

    From the tables it appears the more to the right the party is the more sceptical its voters are towards climate change!!

    So?

  35. One mistake is to divide believers and sceptics (of global man-made warming etc) into ‘rational/scientific’ and others, given that many leading scientists have seen the evidence and fall into the sceptic camp – masked somewhat by the fact that they don’t get the publicity -surprise, surprise – by the interest groups who work with the scientists to promote the concept (of global man-made warming/climate change etc).

  36. @ Allan Christie

    It’s not very surprising. Did you expect something else? Affiliations and values influence choices if there are actionable consequences of the choice.

  37. @ Wkia?

    But it is a poll and not a scientific question. The latter is governed by the method of enquiry. The former by interests and values mildly influenced (perhaps!) by the media.

  38. The Other Howard

    “So?”
    ______

    Well I’m wondering why that is?

  39. Laszlo

    @ Allan Christie

    It’s not very surprising. Did you expect something else? Affiliations and values influence choices if there are actionable consequences of the choice
    ________

    I agree but is there any particular reason why those to the right tend to be more sceptical with regards to climate change?

  40. In Other news

    Penguin Random House merger approved.

    Look out for Random Penguins

  41. @Allan Christie
    “From the tables it appears the more to the right the party is the more sceptical its voters are towards climate change!!
    @ Howard

    “So?””

    It does at least suggest a politicisation of the issue which to those of us on a polling site is mildly interesting at least.

    In many ways it ties in with Turks point above about the climate change argument being somewhat hijacked.

    The link behind why peoples views are formed on any topic often point to the way we might be able to tackle the problem going forward with some sort of societal consensus.

  42. @Allan Christie

    We may be more sceptical full stop ie we may be more questioning in general.

  43. Scientific opinion is overwhelmingly in agreement that global warming is taking place and man is the major cause. Climatologists in particular are near 100% in agreement.Where there are scientists who differ they tend to come from other branches. (You get a similar pattern with Evolution & Creationism).

    I’m not a scientist but it seems to me foolish to ignore expertise when consensus is at this level — rather as is if someone came to this site,saw 9 polls saying one thing but chose to believe the outllying tenth by an unknown pollster that just happenened to say what the reader wanted to believe.Go down that road and you end up looking like an American supporter of the Republican Party, an embarrassing thing for anyone with a still functioning brain.

  44. I suspect the gradation of scepticism is partly about the degree to which people believe in the State as an actor.

    Climate change is clearly something that can only be addressed internationally, with governments/states in the driving seat. That sort of response is naturally attractive to those on the left as it chimes with their “way of doing things” (form a committee, allocate a budget, “Do Something” etc).

    Those on the right, often quite reasonably, are suspicious of anything done by governments and prefer a combination of smaller solutions, with no more than a “nudge” from government in the form of incentives and regulation.

    Personally I like to think I am fairly undogmatic. Whatever needs to be done, should be done – and if objectively the best/only way to do it is through mechanisms I find a bit sinister then so be it. For me the jury is back on the science – human industrial development has caused significant and measurable increases in global temperatures. Those increases have definite, measurable effects on our climate. The jury may still be out on the extent to which it is feasible to combat those effects, and the best methods to use. But if it means massive top-down state intervention in the way things are currently run then I will accept that. I suspect what it really means is a LOT of new nuclear power stations. I accept that too.

  45. Hmm…isn’t this interesting? I think many people are privately uncertain about whether mankind’s behavior is warming the planet. Where they do opt for one side or the other it is far more likely to be influenced by peer group prejudices than informed choice IMO. So, if you’re peer group are on the intellectual Left, (Modernist Labour, Metro-Cameronian Conservative, Greens, LibDems, Friends of the Earth etc.) you are likely to support the perceived wisdom of climate change being caused by mankind. If you are Industrial Left or Mercantile Right, or libertarian-anti-state activity and control (mostly American this latter) you are likely to adopt the denier or extreme skeptic position held by your peers. It all has zilch do do with first hand knowledge except for perhaps a couple of percent of the population!
    Being on the Left and in the first group I mentioned, I was “romantically” attached to the believers in man-made climate change until someone at work quite out of the blue explained that “one good volcanic eruption puts as much carbon into the atmosphere as 10 years worth of man’s exhaust fumes” – if true, I’m beginning to doubt if we humans are having that much effect? Perhaps nature is just doing something strange of her own volition after all? I dunno!

  46. sorry, for you’re read your!

  47. Tony Dean
    http://news.discovery.com/earth/weather-extreme-events/volcanoes-co2-people-emissions-climate-110627.htm
    Google is your friend

    “While there is uncertainty in the measurements–researchers estimate between 0.13 and 0.44 billion metric tons per year, with their best estimates between 0.15 and 0.26 billion tons–even the highest end of the range is dwarfed by anthropogenic emissions of 35 billion metric tons in 2010.”

  48. @ Neil A

    I agree with you about the diminishing trust in the state affecting such a poll. And not only on the right.

  49. I am tempted to comment QED.

    Leave science to scientists (I don’t rule out the potting shed mind). We of little brain can only expect that those we elect, with similar little brain, take the time to study the summaries prepared for them by the scientists. We pay them to take that time.

    I thought that was the point of representative democracy; namely, that we do so.

  50. I think it is quite clear that the majority of Earth Scientists currently believe in man made global warming.
    It is equally true if my memory serves me right that 30 years ago or some the majority of earth scientists believed we were about to enter a period of global cooling associated with a new ice age.

    To my mind all this demonstrated is that modelling of the earths behaviour is a far from exact science. Since the UK’s emissions are at such a low level compared with total World emissions it would seem a sensible strategy to avoid penalising our economy by using expensive alternatives to existing fuels. That is not to say we should not continue to seek cheap and viable long term energy sources.

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