Using the Yale Climate Opinion Data

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The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC)  is a research center within the Yale School of the Environment that conducts scientific research on the public’s knowledge about climate change, and their attitudes, policy preferences, and behavior at the global, national, and local scales. For a description of their infographics and other tools and links to the latest data, go to CCL Community's Yale Climate Opinion Data resource page.

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The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s mission is to advance the science of climate change communication, help leaders communicate more effectively, and increase the public's understanding of climate risks and opportunities.

In this training (see Video tab) three YPCCC staff members present an overview of their processes, key results, and tools that CCL members can use to inform legislators, leaders, the media, and their community about current public attitudes on climate change. It was recorded in 2020. 

Global Warming’s Six Americas

YPCCC segments the attitudes of the American public towards climate change into six categories: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive.  They have been tracking the changing percentages of these groups for more than a decade. 

As of November 2019, 57% of Americans were either Alarmed or Concerned. Ten% were Dismissive. There has been a significant change in the distribution of the Six Americas over the past five years. The Alarmed segment has grown by more than 50% (from 11% to 31% of the U.S. adult population) between 2014 and 2019, while the Dismissive segment has trended downward (from 12% to 10%). Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions. 

Trends in Six Americas data from December 2020 (published after this training) is largely similar.

Americans Underestimate How Many Are Concerned

However, other polling conducted by YPCCC indicates that most Americans, including members of Congress, significantly underestimate the percentage of the public that is Alarmed or Concerned  and significantly overestimate the percentage that is Doubtful or Dismissive. This has the effect of making those who are concerned about climate change less likely or willing to talk about it with friends or colleagues, as they worry that those persons are not concerned and may in fact be doubtful, and would find those conversations uncomfortable.  In fact, 64% of Americans report they rarely or never discuss climate change with family or friends.

Additionally, in their April 2019 national survey, they found that the American public underestimates how many other Americans think global warming is happening (i.e., they underestimate the social consensus on global warming). Americans on average estimate that only 54% of other Americans think global warming is happening, when in fact, 69% of Americans do.

Congressional Beliefs About Constituent Attitudes

A survey of Congressional staff conducted by political scientists in 2019 found that they significantly underestimated public support in their districts for a number of key issues, including regulating carbon emissions. Republican staff underestimated public support for this issue by 49% and democratic staff underestimated by 11%.

Teaching About Climate Change in Schools

A YPCCC partner, the Alliance for Climate Education, provides teachers with materials and a curriculum to teach about climate change in schools. However, they were having trouble recruiting teachers as many thought that parents and administrators would disapprove. But when YPCCC provided polling data demonstrating that 77% of Americans approved of teaching about climate change, and the Alliance began citing that polling in their marketing, recruitment became significantly easier.  

Yale Climate Opinion Maps

Drawing from data collected in YPCCC’s twice-yearly public surveys, the Yale Climate Opinion Maps is an interactive tool to show how Americans’ climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support vary at the state, Congressional district, metro area or county levels. Select from over 25 beliefs, risks, or policies that you want to map, and then select the geographic level to produce a downloadable pdf map. View on YPCCC website.

Custom Climate Opinion Factsheets

Drawing on the same data as the Yale Climate Opinion Maps and perfect for a meeting with a decision maker or editorial board, this Factsheets tool provides information about Americans' beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences about climate change for all 50 states, 435 congressional districts, and 3,142 counties across the U.S.  (You can select the geographic area.) The tool also allows you to select which survey question results (of 22 key measures of public climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy support) are shown on your Factsheet. The opinion estimates are based on a statistical model that uses a large individual-level survey dataset (n > 25,000), plus geographic, demographic, economic, and other data to provide results accurate to within about 8 percentage points at any geographic level. Available in both English and Spanish. View on YPCCC website

Democratic and Republican Views of Climate Change (2018)

The 2018 Partisan Climate Opinion Maps provide data to map how Republican and Democratic climate and energy opinions vary across all 50 states and all 435 congressional districts. The public opinion estimates were generated using a statistical model that combines nationally representative survey data gathered by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication between 2008 and 2018 with voter registration, U.S. census, and geographic data.

To generate a map, first select single maps (democratic or republican) or side-by-side comparison. Select geographic level (national, state, or congressional district). Then select from a list of beliefs, perceived risks, and policy support. View on YPCCC website

How does YPCCC produce such granular data?

In response to a viewer question, Dr. Marlon discussed how YPCCC constructs estimates of public opinion at the county or congressional district level where they may not always have sufficient respondents. They have a base dataset of 25,000 respondents collected nationally over time. For these respondents, besides their opinions on many aspects of climate change, they have demographics and economic data. 

To produce an estimate of public opinions for a particular congressional district, for example, they get demographic, economic, voting, and other data for that district from a variety of sources. Then they match that in a computer model with respondents from their polling dataset. with similar demographics and other characteristics to estimate public attitudes for the congressional district. This discussion begins about minute 37:00 in the video. 

Press play to start the video (65m 05s)
  • Marlon Jefferson
  • Dr. Jennifer Morlan
  • Eric Fine
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Eric Fine
Dr. Jennifer Morlan
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