Framing Science

i-01a76e92e5c78caf681e4332c005be7b-CATI.jpg

Since last fall, poll questions across surveys have tapped public belief in the link between hurricanes and global warming. In this post, I provide a round up of poll findings in chronological order starting last year just after Katrina hit.

The impacts of Katrina and Rita received saturation news coverage. The televised drama combined with the frame contest to connect the storm to global warming was very likely to move public opinion. According to Pew, more Americans reported paying “very close” attention to the Katrina story (73%) than any other event in recent American history, with the exception of the Challenger shuttle disaster (80%) and the September 11 terrorist attacks (78%).

Cross-sectional poll trends do not allow researchers to directly examine casuality when it comes to possible media effects on public opinion. The closest way to get at casuality would be to conduct a panel study surveying a sample of respondents before Katrina hit and then re-surveying the same respondents across subsequent months, looking for variations in opinion across levels of attention to news coverage, use of different news sources, and the statistical interaction between news attention and predispositions like education level, partisanship, and ideology. Of course, no such data exists in this case, so poll trends remain the best available evidence.

Read on for the poll results….


PEW 9/6-9/7/05
Do you think the severity of Hurricane Katrina is the result of global climate change, or is Hurricane Katrina just the kind of severe weather event that happens from time to time?

Result of global climate change 25%
Just happens from time to time 66
Don’t know/Refused 9
N 1,103

FOX NEWS/OPINION DYNAMICS 9/13-9/14/05
Which do you think was more likely the cause of Hurricane Katrina’s extraordinary strength–global warming or a random act of nature?

Global warming 22
Random act of nature 56
Both equally (Vol.) 11
Don’t know 10
N 1,000 (*Sample of Registered Voters)

ABC NEWS 9/23-9/2705
Do you think the severity of recent hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) is most likely the result of global climate change, or is it just the kind of severe weather events that happen from time to time?

Result of global climate change 39
Severe weather that happens from time to time 54
Don’t know 7
N 1,019

CONTEXT: In the Pew and Fox polls taken just after Hurricane Katrina hit, roughly only a quarter of respondents connected global warming to Katrina. This proportion holds despite differences in question wording and sample differences (all adult vs. registered voters.) Scientists, of course, would criticize the question wording, since no single storm can be directly linked to global warming.

However, in the ABC News poll, taken just after Hurricane Rita hit, 39% of respondents now linked the severity of the recent storms to global warming. Again, there are differences in question wording here, but it is likely that back to back superstorms magnified the connection in the public’s mind.

GALLUP 10/27-10/28/05
Thinking about the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years, do you think global warming has been a major cause, a minor cause, or not a cause of the increase in hurricanes?

Major cause 36
Minor cause 29
Not a cause 30
No opinion 5
N 1008

GALLUP 3/15-3/16/06
Thinking about the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years, do you think global warming has been a major cause, a minor cause, or not a cause of the increase in hurricanes?

Major cause 35
Minor cause 33
Not a cause 26
No opinion 6

CONTEXT: In these two Gallup polls taken in late fall 2005 and early spring 2006, roughly 65% of respondents say that global warming was either a major or minor cause of the “increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years.” Again, however, scientists would criticize the accuracy of the poll wording, since global warming has not been linked to the frequency of storms but rather to just intensity. Still, these poll questions are revealing. Outside of the scientific and technical debate, the power of the events and the many political claimants connecting the storms to global warming likely promoted public belief in the connection to global warming.

Perhaps most interesting is how partisanship strongly shaped the interpretation of the events and the acceptance of the claims aired. There is a strong “partisan gap” in perceptions across Republicans and Democrats. Among those answering that global warming was either a major or minor cause, were 53% of Republicans, 60% of Independents and 82% of Democrats. (Roger Pielke has more on this here.)

As I detail with Chris Mooney in this overview of media coverage of the events, immediately following Katrina, a who’s who of democratic leaders including Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter connected the storm to global warming, whereas conservative opinion leaders like Charles Krauthammer dismissed out-of-hand the possible connection. As “cognitive misers” lacking either the motivation or the ability to be fully informed, most of the public typically look for information short cuts to make sense of complex events and issues like the causes of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. In this case partisanship became the convenient short-cut.

DEMOCRACY CORP 5/18-5/24/06
As you know, Katrina was a category 4 hurricane, and it has been preceded in the last couple of years by a series of storms hitting Florida and the Gulf coast. How responsible do you believe global warming is for making these storms worse–very responsible, somewhat responsible, not very responsible or not at all responsible?

Very responsible 19
Somewhat responsible 40
Not very responsible 19
Not at all responsible 16
Don’t know/Refused 6
N 1200

ZOGBY INTERNATIONAL 8/11-8/15/06
Concerning recent weather events, for each of the following, please tell me
if you think global warming has had a major influence, at least some
influence, or no influence.

More intense hurricanes like Katrina
Major 30
Some 38
None 27
Not sure: 5
N 1,018 (* Sample of Likely Voters)

Comments

  1. #1 Steve Bloom
    August 24, 2006

    The differnces in the last two polls are probably because the latter was limited to likely voters, a group known to be more “conservative” (whatever that means in this case) than all voters, and (I think) yet more conservative than the general population. In other words, the response seems pretty consistent. It would be interesting to see what would happen if another Katrina-scale strike happens in the next few years.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.