The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis Changed the Conversation About Global Warming

93 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2015

See all articles by Edward W. Maibach

Edward W. Maibach

George Mason University - Center for Climate Change Communication

Date Written: November 2, 2015

Abstract

Key Findings: From Spring to Fall of 2015 (before the Pope’s encyclical to after his visit to the U.S.)...Americans Developed a More Positive View of the Pope: More Americans ( 7 percentage points), especially Catholics ( 13 points), have a very positive opinion of the Pope. Trust in the Pope as a source of information about global warming increased by among Americans overall ( 11 points), and among Catholics ( 6 points). Global Warming Became a More Salient Issue. More Americans ( 4 points) and more Catholics ( 10 points) say they now hear about global warming in the media at least once a month or more frequently. Almost half (45%) of all Americans, and over half of Catholics (56%) say they have seen, read or heard media coverage about the Pope’s views on global warming in the past few months. Awareness of the Pope’s encyclical increased among all Americans ( 14 points) and among Catholics ( 16 points). Nearly 1 in 10 Americans (9%) and nearly 2 in 10 Catholics (18%) said that the Pope’s views on global warming were discussed in their place of worship. Americans overall ( 6 points), and Catholics ( 5 points), become more likely to discuss global warming with their friends and family often or occasionally.

Many Americans Say the Pope’s Views on Global Warming Influenced Their Own Views. Many Americans (17%) and Catholics (35%) say the Pope’s position on global warming has influenced their views about the issue. Of those Americans who say they've been influenced, half (50%) say the Pope’s position on global warming made them more concerned about global warming, while fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) say they became less concerned. Among Catholics, the proportions are 53 percent, and 8 percent, respectively.

Americans Became More Concerned About Global Warming. More Americans overall ( 4 points), and more Catholics ( 8 points), had thought a lot or some about global warming. More Americans overall ( 6 points), and more Catholics ( 13 points), became very or extremely sure that global warming is happening. There was no change, however, in the number of Americans who believe human activity is causing global warming. More Americans overall and American Catholics think that people in developing countries ( 15 and 17 points, respectively) and the world’s poor ( 12 and 20 points, respectively) will be harmed by global warming a great deal or a moderate amount. More Americans ( 9 points), and more Catholics ( 13 points), think global warming will harm people in the United States a great deal or a moderate amount. More Americans overall, and more Catholics, have come to believe that Americans will be harmed by global warming sooner rather than later. More Americans ( 8 points) and more Catholics ( 11 points) have become worried about global warming. More Americans ( 7 points) and more Catholics ( 8 points) say that the issue of global warming has become very or extremely important to them personally. More Americans ( 5 points) and more Catholics ( 7 points) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.

More Americans Came to See Global Warming as a Moral Issue. More Americans and more Catholics came to see global warming as a moral issue ( 6 and 8 points, respectively) or a religious issue ( 4 and 7 points, respectively). More Americans overall also came to see global warming as a social justice/fairness issue ( 8 points), and a poverty issue ( 5 points).

Support for an American Response to Global Warming May Have Increased, But Only Slightly. More Americans ( 7 points) feel that America should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do. Slightly more Americans ( 2 points) support funding research into renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, although fewer Americans (-3 points) support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on coal-fired power plants.

Conclusion: Between spring and fall of 2015, Americans – especially Catholic Americans – have become modestly more engaged in and concerned about global warming. Our panel survey findings suggest that the Pope’s teachings about global warming contributed to greater public engagement in the issue.

Keywords: climate change, global warming, public opinion,

Suggested Citation

Maibach, Edward W., The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis Changed the Conversation About Global Warming (November 2, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2695199 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2695199

Edward W. Maibach (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Center for Climate Change Communication ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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