In Florida, Nearly 7 in 10 Respondents Consider a Local Climate Change Effort Important
ST. LEO, FL – Climate change continues to be a concern nationally for Americans, with a combined 73.3 percent indicating to the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) that they are very concerned (40.8 percent) or somewhat concerned (32.5) percent about the issue. In Florida, the home of the nonpartisan polling institute, 75.9 percent of residents polled reported some level of concern: 47.3 percent said they are very concerned, and 28.6 percent said they are somewhat concerned.
Both the national and Florida statewide polls were conducted online from February 17 through February 22. The national poll was conducted among 1,000 respondents and so answers have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The Florida survey collected responses from 900 residents, and the resulting answers have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The Saint Leo polling institute has been asking about people’s attitudes toward climate change since 2015, and the combined measure of concern has been consistently high, around 70 percent or greater nationally and in Florida. This was true also in 2016, the year of the most recent presidential election.
And yet, the climate change issue appears to be more urgent for some voters now. That is apparent from answers to a separate question, in which respondents were given a list of about 15 policy areas and asked to name the one that is the single most important issue facing the country today.
In 2016, climate change was cited by 4.4 percent of national respondents, with six issues ranking higher, including jobs and the economy, the federal deficit and other topics. In 2020, by comparison, 8.6 percent nationally pinpointed climate change as the most important issue, and four other issues ranked higher, including health care, jobs and the economy, immigration and the federal deficit, in that order.
“The salience of climate change has increased over the past four years,’’ said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, and a political scientist. “We can definitely see that increased incidents of extreme weather events and high-profile politicians making this a core part of their platform has led to more people focusing on this issue. This is now a significant issue,” Orlando said, “and the debate is shifting away from ‘if anything should be done’ towards ‘what should be done.’”
The 2020 survey also showed that nationally, 52.4 percent of respondents said they believed that climate change is caused by a combination of human activity and nature, compared to 11.3 percent who said it is entirely caused by nature, and 25.2 percent who said it is caused entirely by human activity. The Florida results were essentially similar.
These results include some shifts since 2016.
For instance, the proportion that attributed climate change entirely to human activity, 25.2 percent, reflects the highest level so far seen. It compares to 16.3 percent in 2016.
As for the 52.4 percent who consider climate change a result of combined human and natural activity, they are either not understanding climate change theory well or are disbelieving some of it, according to Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the science faculty at Saint Leo who teaches a class on understanding climate change. Ondrovic explained that the scientists who apply climate change theory are making projections that include the deviation from natural patterns in their predictions. Interestingly, the 52.4 percent national response in 2020 represents a decline from 2016, when 64 percent nationally chose the same response.
In response to another set of questions, more than half of 2020 respondents nationally said they hold climate change as somewhat responsible or very responsible for a gamut of observable conditions that were individually cited. These conditions included seacoast flooding, beach erosion, warmer temperatures, more severe storms, worsened drought conditions, poorer air quality, habitat loss or threatened loss, loss of species, inland flooding, cyclonic storms, more polar oscillations, and wildfires both in the United States and Australia. Floridians responded similarly. The pattern of a majority agreeing that climate change is a cause of these individual phenomena has held since 2016, or, in the cases of events more recently added to the list (such as wildfires and bomb cyclones) since those events were added to the survey.
Climate Change Theory in Schools, in Localities
The polling institute also asked about public education and climate change through a test statement introduced in 2019. People were asked to record their level and intensity of agreement of disagreement with the sentence: “Climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools.” In the most recent poll, 67.6 percent nationally agreed with strongly (39.2 percent) or somewhat (28.4 percent) with that premise. In Florida, a combined 70.4 percent agreed, with 40.6 percent of responses in strong agreement. In both cases, the totals are a couple of points higher than in 2019.
Ondrovic predicted more Americans will see climate change as a threat “when it becomes part of mainstream education.”
Survey respondents were also asked if, to the best of their knowledge, their local community has a department or professional organization that deals with climate change on the local level. Nationally, 23.6 percent of respondents reported “yes,” compared to 18.5 percent in 2019. In Florida, 23.6 percent of respondents also said “yes,” compared to 20.8 percent the prior year. A majority of respondents said this effort is either very important or somewhat important. Specifically, a combined 63.3 percent nationally said such an effort is important, compared to 57.9 percent in 2019. In Florida, an even higher larger proportion of respondents, 69.4 percent, said a local effort is important, a slight increase from 65.6 percent in 2019.
“It appears that many communities feel threatened, and are not going to wait for federal or state agencies to act,” Ondrovic commented.
It is important to note that the response to this question may not reveal exactly how communities across the United States actually have climate or resiliency offices, Orlando, the political scientist, said because “citizens aren’t always perfectly informed on the functions of their local government.” But the result is another indication of the growing concern, Orlando said.
The survey has routinely asked several questions to discover whether respondents consider particular levels of government or the private sector to be best equipped or effective in dealing with climate change effects. But the responses have always been so divided among the options that no clear favorite emerges.
The polling institute decided in 2019 to add questions about plastic bans to the study of climate-change opinions in response to public debate on the issue. The survey focused specifically on distribution of plastic straws, typical at eateries, and single-use plastic shopping bags often used at grocery stores and pharmacies.
Once used, the plastic items can harm wildlife and pollute the environment, especially if they are not disposed of carefully. But some businesses want to be able to use the supplies and offer them to customers, and the ensuing debate has played out in political arenas.
More than half nationally said they agreed with bans on plastic straws—56.7 percent—and on distribution of single-use plastic bags—60.2 percent in that case. Results were similar last year. Notably, the state of New York banned distribution of single-use plastic bags starting March 1, 2020.
In Florida, some beach communities have banned single-use plastic straws, and statewide in the survey, 63.2 percent agreed with bans on straws, little changed from the 2019 survey.
There has been some back-and-forth on the state government’s policy over the past year or so. In 2019, the Florida State Legislature voted to keep local bans on plastic straws from going into effect, but Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, refused to sign that bill into law. Consequently, cities and towns are able to keep bans on plastic straws or enact them. Also in the most recent survey, 65.2 of Florida respondents in the statewide survey agreed with bans on single-use plastic bags, about the same proportion as last year.
International Youth Figure
The polling institute added a question in 2020 to ask polling respondents about their reaction to the much-televised appearances of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in the United States last year. The specific question and the results from those who said they were aware of Thunberg and her speeches appear in this table, and indicate twice as many people liked her as not.
In 2019, Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations and now has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Which of the following best reflects your own view of the speeches by Greta Thunberg…?
|Possible responses||U.S. %||FL %|
|They were very impressive and inspiring||23.1||28.2|
|They were somewhat impressive and inspiring||18.5||14.9|
|Combined results – impressed & inspired||41.6||43.1|
|They were somewhat unimpressive and uninspiring||6.7||6.1|
|They were not at all impressive or inspiring||12.8||14.3|
|Combined results – not at all or not very impressed or inspired||19.5||20.4|
|No real reaction either way||13.5||13.7|
Results from some demographic subgroups showed higher proportions who were impressed than from the national survey base, at 41.6 percent. Among self-described liberals, 64 percent were inspired, as were those with more than a four-year college education, at 51.3 percent. Hispanics, as a group, followed with 50.9 percent impressed with Thunberg, and then people aged 18 to 44, of whom 49 percent were impressed with the teen.
Republicans were more apt to report being uninspired: 34.8 percent of them said they were not at all or not very impressed, compared to 19.5 percent of the overall. A similar finding cropped up among those who described their political philosophy as conservative, of whom 29.5 percent said Thunberg was not at all or not very impressive.
“Even in this case, our partisanship affects valuations of public figures,” commented Orlando, the political scientist and polling director.
For more insights into Americans’ attitudes about climate change and possible adaptation, see the full findings at http://polls.saintleo.edu and look under Poll Reports.
About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 17 through February 22, 2020, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.
The Florida sample was conducted during the same time period among a base of 900 likely voters, using the same online instrument. The results from the sample of 900 Florida respondents has an associated margin for error of +/-3.5 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.
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.
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
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About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 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, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.