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A Majority of Americans Believe the Earth is Getting Warmer
01.29.2020

Against the backdrop of extreme weather events, more Americans than ever before believe that climate change is a real phenomenon that is occurring around the world.

PRRI data demonstrates that more Americans (80%) now believe there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades than in previous years. In 2014 and 2011 when this same question was asked, only seven in ten (69%) said the same. Additionally, most Americans (59%) believe that climate change is happening and is caused mainly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels. The same number of Americans (59%) believe that climate change will cause them a great deal or a moderate amount of harm.

There is a significant divergence on these questions by partisanship, however. Republicans are equally divided among those who believe that climate change is caused by humans (30%), those who believe it is caused by natural patterns (32%), and those who believe that climate change is not happening (35%). More than two in three (66%) Republicans believe that climate change will cause them little or no harm.

By contrast, nearly eight in ten (79%) Democrats and six in ten (61%) independents believe that climate change is happening and is caused by humans. Additionally, Democrats (74%) and independents (60%) are much more likely than Republicans (34%) to believe that climate change will cause them harm. Democrats (72%) and independents (50%) are also much more likely than Republicans (17%) to rank climate change as a critical issue.

There are significant differences by race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, and age when it comes to this issue as well. White Americans (22%) are more likely than Hispanic (14%) and black (12%) Americans to believe that climate change is not happening. White Americans are also significantly less likely (51%) to believe that climate change will harm them personally compared to Hispanics (74%) and black (70%) Americans.

White evangelical Protestants stand out among other major religious groups for their skepticism on climate change. Only one-third (33%) believe that climate change is mostly caused by humans, compared to 28% who believe that climate change is happening but that it is not caused by humans, and 37% who believe that climate change is not happening. In comparison, every other major religious group believes that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans.

Younger Americans (ages 18-29) are more likely than older Americans to believe that climate change is happening (86%) and that it is caused by humans (73%). They are also the most likely age group (72%) to say that it will harm them personally, compared to less than six in 10 (58%) Americans ages 30-49, 55% of those ages 50-64, and half (50%) of seniors (ages 65 and older).