Local or regional civic response capabilities make sense to many

ST. LEO, FL – A new survey conducted nationally and within the state of Florida by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://www.saintleo.edu) has found a majority of those responding think climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools. In the cases of both U.S. and Florida results, more than six in 10 respondents agreed strongly or agreed somewhat with the idea.

On a related topic, more than half of respondents to the national poll and two-thirds of the respondents from Florida said it is important that their own community or area have some sort of department or program to work on climate change issues.

The survey was conducted online from February 16 through February 25, 2019. The national sample consisted of 1,000 respondents, and the resulting margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The same questions were asked of 500 respondents in Florida, which is home to both Saint Leo University and its nonpartisan Saint Leo University Polling Institute. With the Florida results, the margin of error for respondents is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The questions on public education and local civic responses to climate change were added this year to a battery of questions that the Saint Leo University Polling Institute has been posing each year since 2015.

Established patterns
The new questions were a logical outgrowth of evidence that the general public is wondering about the implications of climate change. Since 2015, every year more than 70 percent of respondents in the national poll have indicated they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change. In Florida, responses of those very concerned and somewhat concerned have been at least 67 percent since 2015.

Even when results vary by a few percentage points from one year to the next on a question like this, the long-term pattern tells the tale, said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist who teaches at the university.

The detailed results to the question “How concerned are you about global climate change?” from 2019 are as follows.

Sentiment U.S – % Florida – %
Very concerned 35.8 39.6
Somewhat concerned 35.5 29.0
Combined – concerned responses 71.3 68.6
Somewhat unconcerned 11.6 13.0
Not at all concerned 14.3 16.0
Combined – unconcerned responses 25.9 29.0
Don’t’ know / unsure 2.8 2.4


(Refer to detailed tables at the end of the release and also in the Poll Reports section of the site http://polls.saintleo.edu to examine results over time.)

Respondents have also been asked to say what they think causes climate change by selecting from choices indicating human activity (as the sole cause); nature (as the sole cause); a combination of human activity and nature; whether they disbelieve it is occurring; or whether they don’t know or are unsure. Each year, the most frequent response selected is: Global climate change is caused by a combination of human activity and nature. In 2019, 54.8 percent of respondents nationally and 52.2 percent in Florida selected that answer.

The poll has also each year asked survey respondents to review a list of conditions to say whether they have witnessed such circumstances locally and to what degree they may hold climate change responsible. For instance, the survey lists warmer temperatures, storms that are unusually severe, beach erosion, inland flooding, seacoast rise, polar vortexes, and other events that would be noticeable to people who are not scientists. The most recent results showed that nationally and in Florida, the combined results of people who hold climate change very responsible or somewhat responsible for warmer temperatures, severe weather, rising oceans, and beach erosion exceeded 60 percent.

Possible civic responses
The polling institute decided to ask the broad populations of the nation and the state of Florida about possible new steps that are being suggested and put to use in some areas. Education of the next generation was one topic. “Concern about global climate change remains high, so it is logical that a majority of Americans want global climate change to be taught in primary and secondary schools,’’ observed Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the Saint Leo University science faculty. “A strong majority of our respondents support this idea.’’

Respondents were offered a test statement and asked to react; the details came back this way.

Please indicate if you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree: Climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools.

Possible responses U.S. – % Florida – %
Strongly agree 33.6 37.0
Somewhat agree 30.8 28.2
Combined –  agreeing 64.4 65.2
Somewhat disagree 11.3 12.8
Strongly disagree 14.2 12.6
Combined – disagreeing 25.5 25.4
Unsure 10 9.4


Two other new questions were added. People were asked to consider whether local regions might equip themselves to mitigate climate change. Some areas—such as Tampa Bay, South Florida, Boston, Virginia, and communities in the West—have publicly announced and launched coalitions or other entities to serve their own areas. Ondrovic commented that, “Since little has been done on the national level, and with various communities taking the initiative to address the issue at a local level, we wanted to see if this idea is seen as a priority among the public.”

How important or unimportant would you say it is for your own community or area
to establish a department with employee or start a program to work on the issue of
climate change on the local level? Would you say..

Possible responses U.S. – % Florida – %
Very important 27.8 34.8
Somewhat important 30.1 30.8
Combined – importance assigned 57.9 65.6
Somewhat unimportant 14.0 14.0
Not at all important 17.3 13.2
Combined – not an important idea 31.3 27.2
Unsure 10.8 7.2


And, to the best of your knowledge, does your own community or area have such a
department or professional organization?

Possible responses U.S. – % FL – %
Yes 18.5 20.8
No 43.6 35.2
Don’t know 37.9 44.0


“It seems like Americans want their local government to be prepared,” said Orlando, the polling institute director, “but very few people have an agency to take care of this issue. Not surprisingly, in a state like Florida where the effects of climate change could be more acute, we see that the percentage that are looking for this service is higher than the national average.”

In past surveys, as well as the current one, there is no clear indication that people consider any one level of government or international body particularly effective at climate change mitigation.

As for what group or actor is best able to prevent the causes of global warming, the exercise of personal responsibility by each individual was cited most frequently, by 26.3 percent in the national poll. The next most popular answer, selected by 23.1 percent, was “I don’t know,” which is practically a tie with the federal government, the option cited by 22.4 percent. A similar pattern emerged in the Florida survey. Personal responsibility was named more often than any other answer and selected by 25.6 percent of respondents, more than the next-ranked response, the federal government at 22.8 percent; or those who said they don’t know, which was 19.4 percent. The other answers respondents could have selected were: state governments, local governments, international bodies, and private-sector businesses or entrepreneurs.

Ondrovic said he considers it a positive that personal responsibility resonated with the greatest number of respondents. “More than a quarter of respondents seem to understand that ultimately, each individual must act to prevent the causes of global climate warming,’’ he commented.

Respondents also read from a list of actions that can reduce carbon pollution, and indicated which, if any, of the actions they had taken. The list includes items such as purchasing higher efficiency appliances, which more than four in 10 respondents nationally and in Florida have done, surpassing all other entries. Others ranged from actions including planting a tree or trees, buying a more fuel-efficient car (both of which registered in the mid-20 percent range nationally and in Florida), or switching to solar energy or another alternative source for the home (selected by fewer than 10 percent in the samples). Ondrovic suggested the popularity of each item is likely to vary with other circumstances, such as the relative prices of gasoline when it comes to vehicle choices, for instance, and the presence or absence of tax breaks for installing solar panels.

Note to readers: A companion release on the popularity of bans on plastic straws and bags is also available.

Longitudinal tables: patterns of concern over time
Climate Change Concern Measured – Saint Leo University Polling Institute 2015 – 2019

Each respondent was asked how concerned he or she was about global climate change


2015 – % 2016 – % 2017 – % 2018 – % 2019 – %
Very concerned 30.0 37.1 43.5 40.0 35.8
Somewhat concerned 43.0 37.9 31.6 34.4 35.5
Combined – concern 73.0 75.0 75.1 74.4 71.3
Somewhat unconcerned 15.0 11.0 12.2 11.4 11.6
Not at all concerned 11.0 9.9 9.9 11.3 14.3
Combined -unconcerned 26.0 20.9 22.1 22.7 25.9
Don’t know 1 4.0 2.8 2.9 2.8



2015 – % 2016 – % 2017 – % 2018 – % 2019 – %
Very concerned 28 45.9 39.6 41.8 39.6
Somewhat concerned 39 35.4 35.9 32.6 29.0
Combined – concern 67 81.3 75.5 74.4 68.6
Somewhat unconcerned 18 7.6 10.8 12.0 13.0
Not at all concerned 14 8.3 10.8 9.8 16.0
Combined -unconcerned 32 15.9 21.6 21.8 29.0
Don’t know 1 2.8 2.8 3.8 2.4


About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 16 through February 25, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents, using an online instrument. The national survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. In Florida, the survey was conducted among 500 people across the state during the same time frame, also using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

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) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.