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Christopher P. Borick and Barry G. Rabe

Abstract

Public opinion surveys in the United States have shown a substantial shift in American public views on global warming between 2008 and 2012. During the period between 2008 and 2010, surveys tracked a significant decline in the number of Americans that believed there was evidence that global warming was occurring. Then, during 2011 and 2012, surveys began to show a rebound in belief among Americans that global warming was indeed happening. This study serves to further establish the significant role that weather played in the short-term fluctuations in public opinion regarding global warming that has been observed since 2008. First, the study shows that individuals regularly refer to weather-related factors when explaining how they arrived at their conclusion that the planet is either warming or not warming and that these explanations correspond with broad weather patterns observed over the 2008–12 time frame. The study also finds that actual weather conditions, and specifically seasonal snowfall, shape the process by which individuals arrive at their conclusions regarding the existence of global warming. In particular, snowfall levels during the winters between 2009 and 2012 appear related to an individual’s beliefs regarding the existence of global warming, expanding upon previous studies that have shown a link between weather conditions at or near the time of an interview and respondent views regarding the existence of global warming. The study also finds evidence that the effect of weather on perceptions of global warming is modified by factors such as party affiliation and educational attainment.

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