Attitudes to climate change remain divided

April 22, 2023

The majority of the public reports personal impacts from extreme weather events over the past five years, and most believe that climate change was the cause. Half of adults have become more concerned about climate change in the past year. When discussing climate change, many adults learn or teach new information, although fewer report shifting opinions.

71% of the public believe climate change is happening, 12% believe climate change isn’t happening, and 16% are unsure, numbers that haven’t changed significantly over the past seven years of the AP-NORC survey. Democrats are more likely to believe in climate change (91%) than Independents (62%) and Republicans (52%).

Of those who believe climate change is happening, 63% believe it is the result of human activities. Only 7% believe it is caused by natural changes in the environment, while 30% say it is caused by both equally. Democrats are more likely to believe climate change is caused by human activity (78%) than Independents (52%) and Republicans (38%).

48 percent of adults have become more concerned about climate change in the past year. Only 9% are less concerned and 43% say nothing has changed. Democrats are more concerned (68%) than Independents (45%) and Republicans (24%).

79 percent of adults state that they have been personally affected by at least one extreme weather event in the last five years. Of those personally affected by extreme weather conditions, 69% believe climate change was at least partly a cause. 30 percent do not believe that climate change was a cause. Democrats who have been personally affected by extreme weather events are more likely to believe they were caused by climate change (91%) than Independents (62%) and Republicans (42%).

When it comes to influencing their views on climate change, people say recent extreme weather events and scientists are having the biggest impact. However, Democrats tend to be more influenced by both compared to Republicans.

The public are most likely to talk about climate change with their friends or children. Democrats are at least sometimes more likely to discuss climate change than Republicans.

Among those who have discussed climate change with others, most tend to agree or equally agree or disagree, particularly with friends, children and younger family members. Democrats are more likely to agree than Republicans when discussing climate change with friends (64% vs. 39%), parents or older family members (54% vs. 38%), children (68% vs. 39%), and younger family members ( 56% vs. 33%).

More than half of the public report learning new information as a result of conversations about climate change, and almost half have taught someone else new information. Changes in opinion on climate change are less common, with less than a quarter saying their opinion or someone else’s opinion has changed.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they learned more information, taught someone else new information, or changed someone else’s mind on the subject. Adults under 30 are also more likely to say they’ve changed the way others think about climate change.

When it comes to who should be responsible for climate change, the public places more responsibility on colleges and high schools than on the lower grades. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe that colleges (86% vs. 64%), high schools (87% vs. 61%), middle schools (82% vs. 50%), and elementary schools (74% vs. 43%) have much or some responsibility for teaching about climate change.

Over the past year, few have contacted elected officials (8%), volunteered with or donated to environmental organizations (11%), or followed environmental organizations on social media (15%). Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have taken any of these actions. Half have spoken to friends and family about climate change. Whether or not respondents have taken action on any of these fronts remains largely unchanged from a June 2022 AP-NORC poll.

People feel a mix of emotions when discussing climate change. About half feel some level of hope, but the other half also feel indifference, anger, and overwhelm.

The nationwide survey was conducted April 13-17, 2023 using the AmeriSpeak┬« panel, NORC’s probability-based panel at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews were conducted with 1,230 adults using landline and mobile phones. The range of the sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points.