Sunshine State Residents Also Polled on Their Own Ecological Observations, Household Choices

A new survey of Florida residents by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found that 67 percent of those polled said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change. The margin of error for the Florida survey, which collected answers from 522 online respondents between March 15 and March 21, was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Thirty-two percent of Floridians polled were either somewhat unconcerned (18 percent) or not at all concerned (14) about global climate change, and 2 percent were not sure or didn’t know.

And when asked about their beliefs about the causes of global climate change:

  • 16 percent said it is caused entirely by human activity
  • 14 percent said global climate change is caused entirely by nature
  • 57 percent said it is caused by a combination of human activity and nature
  • 8 percent responded that they do not believe global climate change is occurring,
  • 5 percent said they don’t know or are unsure

The survey showed a gratifying level of concern on the part of the public, as well as opportunities for scientists and educators to explain more about global climate change, said Dr. Leo Ondrovic, associate professor of biology and physics at Saint Leo University. Dr. Ondrovic also developed an undergraduate course for non-science majors called Evaluating the Predictions of Global Warming, which helps students understand the topic, and gives them an appreciation of the scientific method to help increase their overall scientific literacy.

“It is encouraging news that more than half show some level of concern,” said Dr. Ondrovic. Still, he found respondents’ beliefs about the causes of global climate change indicate a possible misperception among the public. “Global climate change theory predicts changes from the natural variations,” he explained, “yet 57 percent of the respondents in Florida think changes are a combination of both man-made and natural variation. This suggests that most people do not understand, or don’t believe, that climate scientists have already considered the contributions of nature.”

Dr. Ondrovic also commented on the changes in environmental conditions residents said they noted. Specifically, only 23 percent said they were aware of ocean rising or seacoast flooding. “It is surprising that Floridians did not have a higher rate of recognition of sea level rise, given the widely publicized periodic flooding in Miami and Cape Canaveral.”

The survey listed coastal flooding among eight possible environmental conditions and asked people whether such conditions are occurring in the state. The next question asked how strongly – very, somewhat, not very, not at all, or don’t know – the respondents attributed any noted changes in their surroundings to global climate change. In each case where changes were noted, and where people were asked if they see global climate as responsible, more people consistently selected “somewhat strongly” for their answer than any of the other choices.

For instance:

Environmental condition Percent in Florida who said it is occurring Percent who somewhat strongly relate this to climate change Percent who very strongly attribute this to global climate change
Ocean rising/seacoast flooding 23% 36% 27%
Beach erosion 56% 35% 25%
Warmer temperatures 49% 36% 32%
Unusually severe weather/storms 25% 34% 25%
Loss or threatened loss of habitats 29% 33% 21%
Loss or threatened loss of species 26% 22% 22%
Worsened air quality 19% 31% 20%
Worsened drought conditions 18% 38% 23%


In reviewing people’s responses, Dr. Ondrovic commented: The general public sees effects of the climate changing, although a majority did not attribute any single effect to climate change, even though all of these can be tied to climate change.”

As for the prevalence of outdoor activities among the survey base: 63 percent said they run or walk; 44 percent said they garden; 31 percent said they bicycle; 29 percent said they fish; 20 percent said they boat, canoe, or kayak. Hiking came in at 17 percent; camping at 16 percent; bird watching at 14 percent; and hunting at 8 percent.

Whom Do People Hold Responsible for Fixing Problems?

Respondents were also asked about what roles various levels of government or the business sector might play in dealing with problems created by climate change.

When asked to select one entity that is best able to deal with the problems, 28 percent of Floridians said the federal government; 21 percent said international bodies. The next most popular answer was “I don’t know/not sure” with 19 percent; followed by 13 percent for the private business sector or entrepreneurs; 12 percent for state governments; and 9 percent naming local governments.

(The question asked about state governments plural.)

Respondents then offered their views on which entities have been effective so far dealing with global-climate-change related problems. With this query, they were able to make more than one selection. The most popular answer was “I don’t know/not sure” at 36 percent; followed by the federal government at 26 percent; the state governments at 24 percent; and the private sector or entrepreneurs at 20 percent. International bodies and local governments were tied at 19 percent.

The survey further delved into which entity respondents bear the most responsibility for dealing with problems associated with global climate change. Multiple responses were allowed. The federal government ranked highest at 53 percent; international bodies followed at 44 percent; and state governments at 43 percent. Local governments were cited in 39 percent of responses, and the private sector or entrepreneurs were cited 36 percent of the time. In 17 percent of responses, the answer was “I don’t know/not sure.”

In seeking reliable information about climate change, the respondents were asked to name which sources (with multiple answers allowed), are reliable. Non-government scientists and educators were named 47 percent of the time followed by environmental groups 35 percent of the time. Mainstream media organizations such as The Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, and so on, were named 22 percent of the time; Fox news was named 21 percent of the time; and the scientist and host of the television series Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson was named 20 percent of the time.

Agreement with Pontiff’s Ecological Views

The survey noted that Pope Francis had recently said that protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians, and asked respondents whether and how strongly they agree with his statement. The most frequently occurring answer was strongly agree at 41 percent. That was followed by somewhat agree at 33 percent, for a combined base of 74 percent at some level of agreement. Eleven percent said they disagree somewhat, and 7 percent said they strongly disagree. Nine percent said they weren’t sure or didn’t know. Notably, demographic information collected for the poll asked people if they have a faith affiliation, and 69 percent identified as Christians. There was further refinement: 23 percent were Catholic; 22 percent were from a particular Protestant denomination (such as Baptist or Presbyterian); and 24 percent described themselves as non-denominational Christians.

Dr. Ondrovic said he was glad to see that Pope Francis “has spoken on this crucial issue. And since one of Saint Leo University’s core values (which are drawn from the Catholic Benedictine tradition) is responsible stewardship, this is particularly gratifying.”

Personal Environmental Actions

Respondents were also asked two key questions about their own lives, households and budgets. They were given a slate of eight choices and asked, in sequence, which they have already done to reduce carbon pollution, and then which they would be willing to do to reduce carbon pollution. They were allowed to select multiple options. They were also given the choices of “none of these” or “I don’t know/not sure.”

When discussing actions taken, 34 percent said they had purchased a smaller or more fuel efficient car. But the next most popular answer was “none of these” at 27 percent – ranking above the 24 percent who said they either car pool or use mass transit.

As for what people are willing to do, 41 said they would be willing to install or purchase alternative energy sources, such as solar, for their homes. Forty percent selected buying a smaller or more fuel-efficient car, and 34 percent more said they would car pool or use mass transit.

Other options offered in the survey included supporting higher energy taxes for environmental efforts; paying higher taxes for more mass transit; getting an electric car; and consuming less or no meat or dairy.

In thinking about the totality of the survey, Dr. Ondrovic stressed that he considers personal responsibility important in dealing with global climate change. “Regardless who shows the leadership, in the end it is up to each and every one of us to take the steps to address the issue, and to reduce or eliminate our personal contribution to the problem,” he said.

Full Survey Results

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute has posted full results in table form here.

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll of 522 Florida adults, including 433 likely voters, was conducted between March 15 and March 21, 2015. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent. 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 allows 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 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.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Over its more than 125-year history, Saint Leo has provided access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

Today 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 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 other locations. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Throughout these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts more than 70,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, three U.S. territories, and 70 countries.

Media Contact: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University academic communications manager, at or (352) 588-8237/(352)467-0843 (cell).