Article | Published:

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

Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 596603 (2015) | Download Citation

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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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.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Environment and Society, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322, USA

    • Peter D. Howe
  2. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • Matto Mildenberger
    • , Jennifer R. Marlon
    •  & Anthony Leiserowitz

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter D. Howe.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2583