On Friday, a new Yale-Associated Press-NORC poll on environmental attitudes reported that just 56 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening. This seems a bit low to me given our UT Energy Poll data on climate change over the past three years looks like this:
But then I thought about language. The Yale-AP-NORC poll asks about "global warming" and the UT Energy Poll asks about "climate change."
Several academic studies have attempted to measure whether there is a difference in how we perceive or respond to "climate change" and "global warming" with mixed results. Poll responses can also be influenced by where a question appears in a survey and several other factors. Still, we do know Democrats and Republicans certainly use these terms differently.
When Fivethirtyeight's Harry Enten looked at the number of times each appeared in the Congressional Record between 2009 and 2014, he found Democrats are far, far more likely to discuss "climate change" while Republicans use "global warming" more often.
In fact, guess who used the term "global warming" most in Congress:
Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who doesn’t believe that global warming is man-made.
And who mentioned "climate change" most?
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who has been on a one-man crusade in trying to get Congress to act on climate change.
Now returning to those very different results from the UT Energy Poll and the Yale-AP-NORC poll:
* Yale-AP-NORC Poll. Base: 1,578, Nov-Dec 2014, MOE 2.9
+ UT Energy Poll. Base: 2,105, Sept 2014, MOE 3.0
I am not suggesting that one result is more accurate than the other, but I do suspect that language matters.
* Note: The UT Energy Poll asks the subset of respondents who "think that climate change is occurring" about what factors they think contribute to it. A portion of this percentage do not attribute climate change to anthropogenic causes. Considered together, the percentage of respondents who think that climate change is occurring AND attribute it to human behavior would be closer to the Yale-AP-NORC result.