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Blowin’ in the Wind: Short-Term Weather and Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change

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  • 1 Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
  • | 2 Department of Geography, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
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Abstract

A series of polls provides new tests for how weather influences public beliefs about climate change. Statewide data from 5000 random-sample telephone interviews conducted on 99 days over 2.5 yr (2010–12) are merged with temperature and precipitation indicators derived from U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) station records. The surveys carry a question designed around scientific consensus statements that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. Alternatively, respondents can state that climate change is not happening, or that it is happening but mainly for natural reasons. Belief that humans are changing the climate is predicted by temperature anomalies on the interview day and the previous day, controlling for season, survey, and individual characteristics. Temperature effects concentrate among one subgroup, however: individuals who identify themselves as independent, rather than aligned with a political party. Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to agree. Although temperature effects are sharpest for just a 2-day window, positive effects are seen for longer windows as well. As future climate change shifts the distribution of anomalies and extremes, this will first affect beliefs among unaligned voters.

Corresponding author address: Lawrence Hamilton, Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, 20 Academic Way, Durham, NH 03824. E-mail: lawrence.hamilton@unh.edu

Abstract

A series of polls provides new tests for how weather influences public beliefs about climate change. Statewide data from 5000 random-sample telephone interviews conducted on 99 days over 2.5 yr (2010–12) are merged with temperature and precipitation indicators derived from U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) station records. The surveys carry a question designed around scientific consensus statements that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. Alternatively, respondents can state that climate change is not happening, or that it is happening but mainly for natural reasons. Belief that humans are changing the climate is predicted by temperature anomalies on the interview day and the previous day, controlling for season, survey, and individual characteristics. Temperature effects concentrate among one subgroup, however: individuals who identify themselves as independent, rather than aligned with a political party. Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to agree. Although temperature effects are sharpest for just a 2-day window, positive effects are seen for longer windows as well. As future climate change shifts the distribution of anomalies and extremes, this will first affect beliefs among unaligned voters.

Corresponding author address: Lawrence Hamilton, Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, 20 Academic Way, Durham, NH 03824. E-mail: lawrence.hamilton@unh.edu
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