Unpacking the Gallup Poll

Before you throw up your hands in disgust and move to a remote cabin in Lincoln, Montana, read the entire 2009 Gallup environmental survey closely. I say this, because Gallup’s headline, “Increased Number Think Global Warming is Exaggerated” is setting the tone for news coverage and blog chatter.

The real story can be read in the survey’s data. To start, let’s examine who comprises the record-high 41% that now believe global warming is exaggerated.

Some commentators¬† in the blogosphere have already noted the “curmudgeon” effect. To put it more charitably, the increased cynicism, Gallup reports, is coming from “Americans 30 and older.”

Then there is the political demographic:

Since 1997, Republicans have grown increasingly likely to believe media coverage of global warming is exaggerated and that trend continued in the 2009 survey.

No surprise there. Conservative titans in talk Radio and cable TV dismiss global warming outright. Hannity and Limbaugh may well lead the GOP to the garbage bin of history but I doubt they will be able to take the planet with them.

This other survey finding, however, should send a collective shiver through the spines of climate change advocates: more Independents are becoming global warming skeptics. In just the past year, according to Gallup,

Republican doubters grew from 59% to 66%, and independents from 33% to 44%, while the rate among Democrats remained close to 20%.

Why are Independents growing more skeptical of global warming? Given that climate change legislation is going to be a hard slog, seems like a good idea to find out what’s bugging those politically treasured Independents.

Turning to the rest of the survey, it’s worth noting that global warming was one of eight specific environmental concerns that Gallup asked about. Americans, it seems, are most worried (84 percent) about polluted drinking water. 76 percent are concerned about dirty air. Global warming ranks last, with 60 percent confirmed as worriers (down from 66 percent last year).

Now I’d chalk up that six percent slide to the tanking economy.¬† But the fact that more people worry about clean air and clean water than melting icecaps and rising seas is telling. It should tell climate change advocates that they have a bigger obstacle to overcome than a slight uptick in doubters.

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