Framing the Climate Debate

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Science  08 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6026, pp. 151
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6026.151-a

How concerned are Americans on the whole about global warming? Yeager et al. have found that the answer may depend on what exactly the question is. Pollsters regularly pose a “most important problem” (MIP) question originally devised by George Gallup in the 1930s: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” Only 1 to 2% of respondents to this question in three surveys conducted by the authors offered global warming or the environment as an answer. However, if instead the question posed was “What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?” global warming/environment emerged as the most frequent response, its percentage more than 10-fold higher than before. Shuldt et al. examined the partisan subtleties of wording choice. They found that the Web sites of conservative think tanks use the phrase “global warming” more frequently than “climate change,” whereas the reverse was true of liberal think tank sites. They then surveyed a sample of Americans to probe the impact of these distinct phrases and found that self-identified Republicans were more likely (by a ∼3:2 margin) to consider climate change a real phenomenon than global warming. Democrats were not affected by the wording, nor did educational attainment appear to favor one response over the other.

Public Opin. Q. 75, 125;115 (2011).

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