• Florida reactions often very close to national responses on climate change questions
  • Survey finds broad concern about seacoast as well as inland flooding 

ST. LEO, FL – A clear majority of Florida residents continue to show concern over global climate change, just as in prior surveys taken during prior years in the springtime, the most recent survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) shows. Seventy-five percent of Florida respondents report concern, with 39.2 percent saying they are very concerned and 35.8 indicating they are somewhat concerned.

The same question was asked in a national survey sample, where just over 72 percent agree they are concerned about global climate change, with 37.5 percent saying are very concerned and 34.7 percent saying they are somewhat concerned. (A full release on the national findings is also posted.)

Similar results have been recorded over the last several years, since 2016. Most years, the combined level of concern from Floridians was greater than 70 percent, except for 2019, when it dipped to just under 69 percent. In the national sample, the level of concern has been greater than 70 percent all along.

This year, the survey was conducted between February 7- 14 among 1,000 respondents nationally, and among a separate sample of 500 respondents in Florida. With those sample sizes, the margin of error for the national results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points, and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the Florida findings. Overall, the survey asks about 30 questions regarding people’s attitudes and observations on climate change, and ideas for coping with climate change.

Dr. Laura Altfeld, an associate professor of biology and ecology at Saint Leo University, also reviewed the findings in detail. While findings show a broad public level of awareness and concern about climate change that is “encouraging,” Altfeld said, she was struck the “disparity” between Republicans, Democrats, and independents in looking at the issue. Respondents identified their own party affiliation in the survey.

For instance, in Florida, where the overall averages indicate 75 percent are concerned about climate change, 91.8 percent of Democrats and 74.3 percent of independents are concerned, compared to 60.6 percent of Republicans.

Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist, offered an explanation. “We observe that party identification affects voters’ evaluations of the economy and other phenomena,” Orlando said, “so it stands to reason that it would also determine views on the state of the environment.” There is one area of possible exception, he suggested: Republicans from South Florida, which so often faces flooding and storms, may be more open to environmental policy shifts than their national counterparts.

Age also makes a difference—though not as much as party does. This is understandable with climate change, Altfeld, the biologist, said: “They’ve got a lot longer to deal with this.”

Of Sunshine State residents who are ages 18 to 35, 82.6 percent say they are concerned with climate change, nearly 8 percentage points higher than the overall average of 75 percent. Of those who are 36 to 55, 76.5 percent indicated concern, essentially even with the overall average, and of those 56 and older, 70.6 percent voice concern.

In the larger national sample, of those who are ages 18 to 35, 80.7 percent report being concerned about climate change. With the next age group, those from 36 to 55, 71.8 percent of respondents show concern, and of those ages 56 and up, 68.9 percent report concern.

The survey also asked participants whether they consider climate change very responsible, somewhat responsible, not very responsible, or not at all responsible for physical changes around them.

In Florida, 73.0 percent say they hold global climate somewhat responsible or very responsible for seacoast flooding or ocean rise (compared to 70.5 percent from the national sample). Seventy-two percent of the Florida residents surveyed also attribute warmer temperatures to global climate change. The corresponding result nationally was 71.3 percent. And 61.2 percent of Floridians say they hold climate change responsible for inland flooding, a result almost exactly matched in the national sample.

(Respondents were asked about several other physical conditions as well, with results fully tabulated and available in the Poll Reports section of http://polls.saintleo.edu.)

Outside the realm of the survey, the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Republican Chris Sprowls, has announced the introduction of bills that would alleviate some of the practical and expensive problems homeowners and businesses face from the threats of inland and coastal flooding. Some money would be given to local governments to pay for flooding protection, and property owners would be offered some tax breaks for elevating their homes. Sprowls happened to bring the bills forward the week after the survey was conducted.

Opinions on new Biden policy actions

Because the timing of this survey coincided with the decision by President Joe Biden to recommit the United States to the Paris Climate Treaty, which requires participants to reduce the emission of gases to help limit global warming, the recent survey asked participants nationally and in Florida their opinions. The question was worded this way:

In December 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded. While initially a participant, the United States pulled out of the agreement during the Trump Administration. The U.S. is now rejoining the pact. How strongly do you support or oppose the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement?


Possible responses U.S.- % Florida – %
Strongly support 35.0 35.4
Somewhat support 24.2 20.6
Combined support 59.2 56.0
Somewhat oppose  8.3  9.6
Strongly oppose 19.8 23.0
Combined oppose 28.1 32.6
Not sure 12.7 11.4


The polling institute also asked about the controversial Keystone oil pipeline. Respondents were asked:

One of President Biden’s first executive orders was to cancel the Keystone crude oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Midwest and the U.S. Gulf Coast. Supporters of the executive order cite the pipeline’s negative impact on the environment while opponents of the order cite the loss of thousands of jobs as well as the loss of some domestic supply. Based on all you know or have heard, how strongly do you support or oppose the president’s decision?

Possible responses U.S. % Florida %
Strongly support 26.7 26.2
Somewhat support 20.3 21.6
Combined support 47.0 47.8
Somewhat  oppose 10.9 11.2
Strongly oppose 27.2 29.2
Combined oppose 38.1 40.4
Not sure 14.9 11.8


Orlando, the polling institute director, compared the results and said, “The Paris Agreement being slightly more popular than canceling the Keystone Pipeline probably has a lot to do with the concrete effect on jobs” and employment associated with the pipeline. Any negative effects on the labor market from rejoining the Paris Climate Treaty, Orlando observed, are “less tangible,” so the agreement is more broadly acceptable.

Policy decisions closer to local levels

The survey repeated two questions from prior years that respondents might encounter in their communities, regions, or school districts.

As various cities or groups of cities, such as Tampa and the Tampa Bay region as well as Southeast Florida, began starting local government offices to help adapt to flooding or other impacts of climate change, the polling institute started asking respondents if they were aware of such efforts near them. The institute also asked if people whether they consider it important or unimportant for their own area to establish an office, with employees, or a program to deal with climate change.

In Florida, 67.6 percent of respondents say a local office would be important, with 35.8 percent saying an office would be very important, and 31.8 saying an office would be somewhat important. Nine percent say such an office would be somewhat unimportant and 13.2 percent said it is not at all important to have such an operation. That leaves just over 10 percent who are unsure.

Florida residents are not aware, necessarily, if they have such local offices yet: 41.0 percent said they don’t know, and 33.8 percent say their local community does not have one. A little over 25 percent say there is one.

Looking at how the national base of 1,000 respondents react to the idea of a local climate impact office, a combined 62.2 percent consider it either very important (29.7 percent) or somewhat important (32.5 percent). About 10 percent were unsure, leaving a little more than one-quarter, 27.7 percent, saying they consider the idea somewhat unimportant (10.8 percent) or not at all important (16.9 percent.). Also, 39.6 percent of national respondents say their local community does not have such an office, and 38.3 percent do not know. Just over one-fifth, at 22.1 percent, say their community does have such an office.

Some communities and cities outside of Florida that are known for having such local offices are Boston, Cincinnati, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Some states have also set up authorities.

The survey also again gauged support for teaching climate change in primary and secondary public schools as accepted theory. Of Florida’s 500 respondents, 67.8 percent agree climate change should be taught as accepted theory in primary and secondary schools. That sum includes 37.8 percent who strongly agree and 30.0 percent who somewhat agree. The Florida respondents agreeing include 85.9 percent of Democrats surveyed, 68.1 percent of independents, and half (50.9 percent) of the Republicans sampled.

In the national sample, 67.6 percent said they agree either strongly or somewhat that climate change should be taught in public schools as accepted theory. Of those in agreement nationally, the political party affiliation is close to Florida results. Of Democrats surveyed nationally, 88.4 percent say climate change should be taught in public schools, compared to 66.2 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans.

Immediate political implications

Judging from the overall findings on political opinions on environmental matters, Orlando, the polling institute director, said it appears the electorate continues to follow the same patterns evident during the Trump presidency. “Republicans may dig in a little more on these issues because in some ways ‘negative’ partisanship may be more powerful than ‘positive’ partisanship; that is to say that partisans are more likely to change their opinions based on opponents’ positions, rather than on the guidance from leaders of their own party. Part of this depends on how much of a priority President Biden makes the environment. Will he go beyond the low-hanging symbolic fruit? If he attempts to do so, then I expect Republican opposition to harden, as rejecting the president’s environmental policy will become a central facet of defeating him and his coalition in 2022 and beyond.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The statewide survey was also conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).   

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.