Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
There is no evidence that climate change has ever been a top concern for most Americans.
Recently I reported on a poll that Gallup has conducted in America every month of every year since 2001. Admirably, it makes no attempt to prompt or influence. It asks people to name the most important problem facing the country, then it records their answers.
If one seeks honest, genuine insight into ordinary people’s lives, that’s a great approach.
Pew Research Center, another American polling outfit, conducts a different kind of survey. For 25 years (from 1994 to 2019 inclusive), it has read members of the public a long list of pre-selected topics in random order. People have been asked to attach a label to each one.
Should it be a ‘top priority’ for the President and Congress this year? Should it be a lower priority? Is it unimportant? Does it deserve no attention at all?
In 2007, Pew added ‘global warming’ to this list of potential top priorities. In 2016, it started calling it ‘climate change’ instead.
Last year, 44% of respondents told Pew that ‘Dealing with global climate change’ should be a top priority. That sounds significant until you notice that every single item on the list received at least 39% support.
In such cases, raw percentages are meaningless. What matters is how a topic ranks compared to its fellows. Those results couldn’t be clearer. In 2019, climate change ended up in 17th place out of 18.
70% of people said strengthening the economy should be a top priority.
69% said reducing health care costs should be.
68% said the education system needs attention.
Those are very strong numbers, involving more than than two-thirds of the population. What came next?
4. ‘Defending the country from future terrorist attacks’ – 67%
5. ‘Taking steps to make the Social Security system financially sound’ – 67%
6. ‘Taking steps to make the Medicare system financially sound’ – 67%
7. ‘Dealing with the problems of poor and needy people’ – 60%
8. ‘Protecting the environment’ – 56%
9. ‘Dealing with the issue of immigration’ – 51%
10. ‘Improving the job situation’ – 50%
11. ‘Reducing crime’ – 50%
12. ‘Dealing with drug addiction’ – 49%
13. ‘Reducing the budget deficit’ – 48%
14. ‘Addressing race relations in this country’ – 46%
15. ‘Strengthening the US military’ – 45%
16. ‘Improving the country’s roads, bridges and public transportation systems’ – 45%
17. ‘Dealing with global climate change’ – 44%
18. ‘Dealing with global trade issues’ – 39%
In other words, another long-running US poll tells us the public’s climate concerns are weak. Ask people if they care about it, and many will say ‘yes.’ But they feel more urgency about a long list of other issues.
‘Dealing with global warming’ ended up in second last place in 2007. Between 2008 and 2013, it ranked last (select a year and then ‘Overall’ here). Here’s what happened after that:
2014: second last
2015 second last
2016 third last (the first year Pew began calling it ‘global climate change’)
2017: second last (see bottom of the page)
2018: second last
2019 second last
Moral of the story: There has never been any evidence that climate change is a top concern for most Americans. This is not a crowd pleaser or a vote getter.