More Than Half Note Warmer Temperatures, and More Floridians Are Watching Seacoasts

SAINT LEO, FL – Three-quarters of Americans are either very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change, remaining at the same level as last year, according to the latest national online survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( The percentage level of concern reported in 2016 was 75.1 percent, compared to 73 percent last year, which is essentially a statistical tie.

Strikingly, in peninsular Florida, a parallel survey of residents found that 81.3 percent were very concerned or somewhat concerned, a marked increase from last year’s poll around the same time when 67 percent felt that way. There was particularly sharp upward movement in the percentage of those who said they were very concerned, from 28 percent last year to 45.9 percent this year. Meanwhile, other percentage levels shrank. Those who reported they were only somewhat concerned fell to 7.6 percent from 18 percent in 2015, and those who said they were not at all concerned declined this year to 8.3 percent compared to 14 percent last year.

Few people surveyed said they don’t believe climate change is occurring: 4.1 percent nationally and 3.7 percent in Florida this year, versus 4 percent nationally and 8 percent in Florida last year.

“I think what these numbers are telling us is that awareness of global climate change is growing,” said Leo Ondrovic, PhD, a Saint Leo science faculty member and consultant to the polling institute.

The national survey was conducted from March 13 to March 17, 2016, nationally, among 1,015 adult respondents, resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (The results can vary by that many points in either direction.) During the same time period, the institute conducted a parallel poll of 540 adult residents of Florida, which is the home state of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. Because there was a smaller respondent pool in Florida, the margin of error for state questions is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Year-to-year comparisons are available on most of the questions concerning global climate change, as the poll was conducted in March 2015 the same way, although not with the same individuals. Some new questions were added in 2016. The survey asked about personal observations in one’s environment, about ways people might change their own behavior, levels of confidence in government on this issue, and more.

Some particularly interesting findings:

  • The big change nationally was how many more people observe warmer temperatures. That rose to 57.1 percent this year, compared to 45 percent last year. And 72.4 percent of those polled nationally consider global climate change very responsible or somewhat responsible, edging up from 69 percent last year.
  • Similarly, 57 percent of Floridians in 2016 said the temperatures were warming and said climate change was responsible. Nearly half, 49 percent, last year also reported warmer temperatures, so the increase was not as dramatic as the national survey.
  • What substantially more Floridians did report observing in this year’s survey is ocean rise or seacoast flooding, leaping to 33.5 percent from 23 percent. Also more than three- quarters of Floridians held global climate change very or somewhat responsible, a 12-point jump from 63 percent last year.

Cultural Influences and Personal Actions

Other findings revealed more about whom people consider trustworthy on the topic and what personal changes they might be willing to make to reduce carbon pollution, as the pollution contributes to global climate change.

  • Non-government scientists and educators outstrip other sources of information on global climate change as being considered trustworthy, with 45 percent or slightly more of respondents in both geographic samples naming that group above others. Multiple choices were allowed from the list, which included mainstream media, conservative talk radio commentators, and the federal government.
  • At the personal level, respondents in both geographic samples were more apt to report taking actions that reduce carbon pollution if the steps also provided them with a personal savings—such as buying a more fuel-efficient car, at 30 to 35 percent in both years. By comparison, the option of reducing consumption of dairy products or eliminating them from one’s diet had little appeal. That was reported in a range between 8 and 11 percent.
  • In response to a new question added this year, more than a quarter of respondents nationally, 27.5 percent, and in Florida (32 percent) said they had planted trees. More than 49 percent nationally and nearly 44 percent in Florida said they would be willing to plant trees. Trees reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • In both years, the poll asked whether respondents agree with Pope Francis that protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians. And in both years, the results for those strongly or somewhat agreeing were more than 70 percent, nationally and in Florida. The broad agreement exists even though the sample included respondents from multiple religions; Catholics registered agreement with Pope Francis in somewhat higher numbers, though.

“Pope Francis may be the international figure who leads on this topic,” said Ondrovic. Pope Francis released a detailed encyclical (teaching document) on environmental ethics and concerns called Laudato Sí in summer of 2015, and its contents received wide media coverage. The encyclical followed less detailed statements Pope Francis had released before.

Role for Governments / Other Institutions in Public’s Mind

More than half the respondents, at 57 percent nationally, and more than 62 percent in Florida, said they support strongly or at least somewhat the United States’ participation in the December 2015 Paris Climate Treaty. The talks, convened by the United Nations, call for international cooperation to help reduce gas emissions and thereby hold down rising temperatures. Fewer respondents are confident the treaty will be very effective or somewhat effective, though: that turned out to be 36 percent nationally and 40.2 percent in Florida.

Since 2015, the polling institute has asked respondents questions about which levels of government or other institutions can or should cope with climate change.

Though multiple responses are allowed, people continue to name the federal government, international bodies (such as the United Nations), and state governments as the entities most responsible for dealing with effects of climate change. But reactions are spread out over several categories, as this chart indicates.

Who is responsible for dealing with the problems associated with climate change? National March 2015 



 March 2016


Florida March 2015 % Florida

March 2016   %

Federal or national government 56.0 55.7 53.0 62.2
International bodies 39.0 45.0 44.0 48.3
State governments 43.0 42.5 43.0 44.1
Private sector businesses or entrepreneurs 40.0 37.0 36.0 39.6
Local governments 38.0 36.4 39.0 38.9


On this note, Saint Leo University political scientist Frank Orlando said he will be interested to watch and see how the public reacts to these questions next year, depending on how the presidential campaign election plays out. Specifically, Orlando is curious whether the issue of climate change will become more polarizing among the electorate, “especially if you have candidates with strong rhetoric on climate change, such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,” who have both repeatedly said they do not accept climate change as a reality.  “It could crystallize public opinion further,” Orlando commented.

More charts with questions and responses are available. Look at under Poll Reports, the column on the right part of the screen.

Media contacts:
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text)
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument, and the national poll has a plus or minus 3 percent margin of error. The Florida poll has a plus or minus 4.5 percent margin of error.

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 dollar 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 be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and a capacity for innovation. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.