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Local Weather & Global Warming: Democrats Less Scientific Than Republicans?

Most Americans agree that this winter has been warmer than usual in their local area, but don’t agree on the cause. Republicans and independents are more likely to say the warmer temperatures are due to normal year-to-year temperature variations, while Democrats are more likely to say the cause is global warming.

Next, I’d like you to think about the weather in your local area this winter season compared to past winters. Have temperatures in your local area been -- colder than usual this winter, about the same, (or) warmer than usual this winter? If warmer, do you think temperatures are warmer mainly due to -- global warming (or to) normal year-to-year variation in temperatures?

Overall, 79% of all Americans agree that it was warmer than usual in their local area this winter, with clear variation by region. More than nine in 10 of those living in the East (92%) and Midwest (95%) say this winter was warmer than usual, compared with 77% in the South and 55% in the West.

Republicans are less likely than Democrats and independents to live in the East, and slightly more likely to live in the South, which may partially explain why Republicans are less likely than either independents or Democrats to have perceived a warmer-than-usual winter.

Americans who say it has been warmer than usual in their local area were asked whether they think this is due to global warming or to “normal year-to-year variation in temperatures.” Overall, Americans tilt toward the latter explanation; 46% say the winter was warmer than usual due to normal temperature fluctuations, compared with 30% who attribute it to global warming.

However, these views are strongly related to political orientation. Specifically, 51% of both Republicans and independents say it has been warmer than usual due to normal temperature variations, while 19% and 28% of the two groups, respectively, say it was warmer due to global warming.

Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to say the warmer-than-usual temperatures have been due to global warming rather than to normal temperature fluctuations, by 43% to 37%.

Americans of all educational and age groups are more likely to believe the warmer temperatures were caused by normal temperature variations rather than by global warming.

Next, I’d like you to think about the weather in your local area this winter season compared to past winters. Have temperatures in your local area been -- colder than usual this winter, about the same, (or) warmer than usual this winter? If warmer, do you think temperatures are warmer mainly due to -- global warming (or to) normal year-to-year variation in temperatures?

Implications

It is fair to say that most Americans do not have the scientific background or available resources to make an accurate assessment of the cause of what they perceive to be this winter’s warmer-than-usual temperatures. Thus, Americans, when asked to speculate on the cause of the warmer temperatures, must rely on what they have read, heard, or seen. The types of discussions Americans read, see, or hear on this issue, in turn, are clearly related to their political orientations.

Gallup has previously documented a decline in Americans’ concern about the seriousness of global warming, driven by greater skepticism among conservatives and Republicans. This conforms with skepticism among the conservative news media about the impact of human activities on global warming and controversies about global warming research in general.

The current findings confirm that politics do play a role in views about climate change. The majority of Democrats who believe that temperatures were warmer than usual this winter ascribe this phenomenon to global warming, while even higher majorities of Republicans and independents ascribe it to normal temperature fluctuations.