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The impacts of temperature anomalies and political orientation on perceived winter warming

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 10771081 (2014) | Download Citation


Although perceptions of common weather phenomena moderately align with instrumental measurements of such phenomena1, the evidence that weather or climatic conditions influence beliefs about anthropogenic climate change is mixed2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. This study addresses both foci, which are important to scholars who investigate human–environment interactions and observers who expect greater exposure to weather or climate extremes to translate into stronger support for climate change adaptive measures and mitigative policies. We analyse the extent to which state-level winter temperature anomalies influence the likelihood of perceiving local winter temperatures to be warmer than usual and attributing these warmer temperatures mainly to global warming. We show that actual temperature anomalies influence perceived warming but not attribution of such warmer-than-usual winter temperatures to global warming. Rather, the latter is influenced more by perceived scientific agreement; beliefs about the current onset, human cause, threat and seriousness of global warming; and political orientation. This is not surprising given the politicization of climate science14,15 and political polarization on climate change beliefs16,17 in recent years. These results suggest that personal experience with weather or climate variability may help cultivate support for adaptive measures, but it may not increase support for mitigation policies.

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The authors thank the Gallup Organization for making its data available for analysis.

Author information


  1. Lyman Briggs College, Department of Sociology, and Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University, 919 East Shaw Lane, Room E-35, East Lansing Michigan 48825, USA

    • Aaron M. McCright
  2. Department of Sociology, Oklahoma State University, 431 Murray, Stillwater Oklahoma 74078, USA

    • Riley E. Dunlap
  3. Department of Sociology, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW Washington DC 20016, USA

    • Chenyang Xiao


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A.M.M. and R.E.D. conceptualized the research question. C.X. performed the data analyses. A.M.M. wrote the initial drafts of the manuscript. A.M.M., R.E.D. and C.X. revised the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aaron M. McCright.

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