Geographic variation in opinions on climate change at state and local scales in the USA

Abstract

Addressing climate change in the United States requires enactment of national, state and local mitigation and adaptation policies. The success of these initiatives depends on public opinion, policy support and behaviours at appropriate scales. Public opinion, however, is typically measured with national surveys that obscure geographic variability across regions, states and localities. Here we present independently validated high-resolution opinion estimates using a multilevel regression and poststratification model. The model accurately predicts climate change beliefs, risk perceptions and policy preferences at the state, congressional district, metropolitan and county levels, using a concise set of demographic and geographic predictors. The analysis finds substantial variation in public opinion across the nation. Nationally, 63% of Americans believe global warming is happening, but county-level estimates range from 43 to 80%, leading to a diversity of political environments for climate policy. These estimates provide an important new source of information for policymakers, educators and scientists to more effectively address the challenges of climate change.

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Figure 1: Estimates of four different opinions about global warming at the state in 2013.
Figure 2: Estimates of two different opinions about global warming at the 113th congressional district level in 2013.
Figure 3: Estimates of two different opinions about global warming at the county level in 2013.
Figure 4: Comparison of MRP estimates with public opinion results from independent, representative surveys across 11 survey questions.
Figure 5: Cross-validation comparison across six simulated sample sizes (n = 99 simulations) of mean absolute error between MRP results and disaggregation against the full sample.

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Acknowledgements

This project was supported by the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Energy Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, and the V. K. Rasmussen Foundation. The authors wish to thank E. Maibach, C. R-Renouf, G. Feinberg, L. Fernandez, S. Rosenthal and B. Schwarz.

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P.D.H. and A.L. designed the study. P.H. and M.M. built the model. A.L. provided the modelling and validation data. P.H., M.M. and J.R.M. processed data and tested the model. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peter D. Howe.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., Marlon, J. et al. Geographic variation in opinions on climate change at state and local scales in the USA. Nature Clim Change 5, 596–603 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2583

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