The number of Americans who believe global warming is occurring has declined to its lowest since 1997, though at 72 percent, it's still a broad majority. The drop has steepened in the last year-and-a-half – almost exclusively among conservatives and Republicans.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds that support for government action to address the issue, while still a majority, likewise is down from its levels in summer 2008.
Belief that Earth is warming peaked at 85 percent in 2006, then flattened before turning back. Even with the decline, Americans who think global warming probably is occurring outnumber those who think not by nearly 3-1, 72 percent to 26 percent.
Levels of concern are undiminished among those who think it is happening, and intensity of sentiment has risen: Eighty-two percent call it a serious problem right now (it was a similar 84 percent last year); 44 percent call it "very serious," up 6 points.
On policy, 76 percent now favor unspecified government action on global warming, down from 86 percent in summer 2008. This now includes 55 percent who favor the United States taking steps even if countries such as China and India do less; that's down from 68 percent.
On one specific proposal, 53 percent support a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases. That's slipped from 59 percent in summer 2008.
Discussion of government action to address global warming has intensified in advance of a United Nations-sponsored conference in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18. Representatives of 191 countries have been invited; the White House is expected to say shortly whether President Obama will go.
GETTING WARMER? – Belief that global warming is occurring – specifically, that the world's temperature has been going up slowly in the past hundred years – was 76 percent in an Ohio State University poll in 1997 and 85 percent in an ABC/Time/Stanford University poll in spring 2006. It subsided to 80 percent last year, vs. 72 percent now.
The ideological and partisan nature of the change, especially in the last year, supports previous research finding that views on global warming are heavily informed by political and ideological predispositions. (So, for example, are views of the economy, particularly when its condition or direction aren't clear.)
Since summer 2008, belief that warming is occurring fell by 13 points among conservatives while holding essentially steady among liberals and moderates. It fell by 20 points among Republicans and 8 points among independents while steady among Democrats. Grouping Republicans with independents who lean toward the Republican Party finds a 17-point drop in this group, compared with no real change (-1) among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
The changes in the two groups in which it's chiefly occurred are striking ones. Last year leaned Republicans by 72-25 percent believed the Earth was warming; today it's 55-43 percent. Conservatives last year divided by 69-28 percent on the question; today, by contrast, it's 56-41 percent. Combining these groups – that is, among conservative Republicans – a bare majority now says global warming is not occurring, the only group in which more than half says so.