That level of denial is the lowest recorded since the University of Michigan and Mullenberg College–led survey began in 2008. The 70 percent figure is the second-highest level of belief over that time span—up seven percentage points over survey numbers from just six months ago.
Lead researcher Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg, said the jump mainly because of a large shift among Republicans and evangelical Christians.
“Of course, those groups have the longest way to go when it comes to a consensus on climate change acceptance, but we definitely saw the largest shift in that group as a whole,” he said.
According to the fall 2014 survey, 46 percent of Republicans believed there was enough evidence of global warming, compared with 56 percent this fall.
The study is conducted twice a year, surveying more than 900 Americans by phone on their beliefs surrounding climate change. Among other things, the survey asks respondents to identify what influences their climate change beliefs, such as recent weather patterns, political and religious affiliations, and media coverage.
This year, Americans cited the record drought hitting much of the nation as having the largest impact on their views about climate change. That raises a question: If it starts raining, will the public change its beliefs?
“We can typically attribute a few percentage points to seasonal weather shifts,” Borick said, noting that a colder-than-average winter in 2013 led to a percentage drop in Americans who believed there was evidence that climate change is occurring. “Most people don’t change their views based on seasonal swings, but there still are people out there who do.”
As for evangelical Christians, Borick and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan are working on another survey that will address whether church leadership—think Pope Francis—is influencing shifting beliefs on climate change.
The pope’s recent visit to the United States, along with his much-publicized encyclical on climate change, could be the catalyst for change.
“If evangelical communities are being told to be more supportive of efforts to address climate change, that could be shifting individuals’ views on global warming,” Borick said.