Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Decades of Public Opinion: Climate Change Not on the Radar

Vast majority don’t mention climate when asked about important problems.

Each month, the Gallup polling outfit asks 1,000 random members of the US public to identify “the most important problem facing this country today.”

Two to three answers typically dominate the results, followed by a long list of concerns mentioned by small numbers of people. Over the past two decades significant segments of the population, sometimes clear majorities, have cited either the economy or jobs.

Below is a table of the four top problems, stretching back to 2001.

click to enlarge; source here

While many people considered terrorism or Iraq the major concern prior to 2009, those issues later disappeared. Although immigration was a top concern in 2006 and 2007, it vanished for years, only resurfacing in 2015.

Health care appears on this table seven times. Here’s the percentage of people who identified it as America’s most important problem:

10% (2007)
8% (2008)
15% (2009)
13% (2010)
10% (2014)
10% (2017)
6% (2019)

A few issues can be described as marginal. Americans care about them, but large numbers of people have never regarded them as the nation’s top priority:

  • education: 9% (in 2001)
  • ethics & morals: 9% (2001)
  • gas prices: 10% (2008)
  • federal deficit: 10-12% (2011-13)
  • race relations: 6-8% (2016-19)
  • unifying country: 6% (2018)

What’s missing? Climate change, of course. Not once, in two decades, has that topic been part of this table. Which means it’s a less than marginal concern.

Climate change has never been important to ordinary people living their lives, raising their kids, and paying their bills. Never mind being a contender for first place, it isn’t even on the chart.

Gallup’s monthly polling results from August 2018 to February 2019 are publicly available. They include the long list of answers mentioned by small numbers of respondents. Among these we find: abortion, crime, drugs, gay and lesbian rights, gun control, and school shootings. No ‘climate’ there, either.

There is, however, a category called ‘Environment/Pollution.’ Presumably, climate change gets counted here. During those seven months, environmental issues were called America’s top concern by between 1% and 5% of those polled.

Do ordinary people share the conviction of the Reuters news organization that climate change is “the defining story of our time“? Hardly. This is a case of parallel universes – journalists utterly disconnected from the public they claim to serve.

And some folks wonder why newspapers are dying.


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  • Gallup discusses the monthly data here. See the details in this 2-page PDF. The percentage of people who said environmental issues were the most important problem facing America: 2%, 1%, 3%, 2%, 5%, 3%, and 3% – which works out to an average of 2.7% over that time period.
  • see my previous commentary, from 2014, The Climate Change Express: Ignoring Your Views at Every Meal: Ordinary people don’t care about climate change. How many times do they have to say so?



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This entry was posted on January 6, 2020 by in ethical & philosophical, media and tagged , , .