Fair Weather Friends? Economics, Public Opinion, and Climate Change

40 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2011 Last revised: 30 Nov 2013

See all articles by Lyle A. Scruggs

Lyle A. Scruggs

University of Connecticut - Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 17, 2011


Social surveys suggest that the American public’s concern about climate change has declined dramatically since 2008. This has led to a search for explanations for this decline, and great deal of concern about whether there is has been a fundamental shift in public trust in climate science. We evaluate over thirty years of public opinion data about global warming and the environment, and suggest that the decline in belief about climate change is most likely driven by the economic insecurity caused by the Great Recession. Evidence from European nations further supports an economic explanation for changing public opinion. The pattern is consistent with more than forty years of public opinion about environmental policy. Popular alternative explanations for declining support — partisan politicization, biased media coverage, fluctuations in short-term weather conditions, or the “climategate” scandal in 2009 — are unable to explain the suddenness and timing of opinion trends. The implication of these findings is that the “crisis of confidence” in climate change will likely rebound after labor market conditions improve, but not until then.

Keywords: Public opinion, economic recession, climate change, global warming, unemployment, United States, Europe

Suggested Citation

Scruggs, Lyle A., Fair Weather Friends? Economics, Public Opinion, and Climate Change (August 17, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1920797 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1920797

Lyle A. Scruggs (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - Department of Political Science ( email )

365 Fairfield Way, U-1024
Storrs, CT 06269-1024
United States

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