What Americans Think About Climate Change in Seven Maps

Researchers publish a new mapping tool that estimates county-level public opinion

Researchers at Yale have unveiled a new interactive map that estimates public opinion on global warming right down to the county level.

As a nation, 63 percent of Americans believe that the globe is warming. (Note: It is.) But that single statistic reveals little about what people in different states, local communities, and congressional districts think. The research, which was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, makes estimates for those geographies and asks: 

  • Whether people believe humans are causing most of the warming (Note: They are.)
  • If people are aware that scientists understand the world is warming. 
  • What implications of the warming may be: Are people afraid? For themselves? For people in developing countries? For the future? Should we fund renewables, regulate carbon, or do something else? 

The research is primarily based on data from 12 surveys conducted between 2008 and 2013 by the Yale Project on Climate Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. The results were analyzed using a relatively new statistical technique developed by political scientists that allowed the team to project public opinion on climate change from demographic and geographic data. The results were then compared with independent state and local surveys to make sure they held up. 

The map built by the Yale center  is accessible to the public, and it may be useful to anyone from government managers who work on climate adaptation, to political campaigners, even to businesses selling climate-friendly products. "I could foresee some commercial purposes," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale center. "That's not why we did this."

Below are seven maps, each of which looks at how estimates of U.S. public opinion change in response to various climate-related questions and is organised by congressional district:

Americans understand that the world is warming. Virtually every district is tan—which represents 50 percent of public opinion—or a darker shade of orange or red:

The country shows more of a split on whether humans are driving global warming. The most authoritative body of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, affirmed last year that humans "have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century."

Fewer Americans in general are aware of the scientific consensus about climate change, perhaps a sign of the intense politicization of the topic in the U.S.:

Americans are in strongest agreement about funding research into renewable energy. Solar and wind energy have already matured enough in several states that they are competitive with or cheaper than conventional electricity:

About 63 percent of the country supports the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, which is good, because the White House is expected to finalize its rules this summer:

The nation is cool on the idea of a carbon tax, even if the proceeds are disseminated back to the public:

Finally, the new mapping tool's county-level data show how diverse even the electorally "reddest" or "bluest" of states are. 

Driving public opinion data in the long-run is climate change itself. Since 1991, temperatures across the U.S. have risen on average between 1 degree and 1.5 degree Fahrenheit, slightly less so in the Southeast, according to the latest National Climate Assessment

The colors on the map show temperature changes between 1991 and 2012, from the 1901-1960 average (from the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawaii). The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region.
The colors on the map show temperature changes between 1991 and 2012, from the 1901-1960 average (from the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawaii). The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region.
NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC
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