The Outlier

By Keith Kloor | June 15, 2010 11:14 am

The war between the global warming pollsters is on. Last week, in a NYT op-ed that was widely discussed in the media, Stanford’s Jon Krosnick asserted that

national surveys released during the last eight months have been interpreted as showing that fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real, human-caused and threatening to people.

But a closer look at these polls and a new survey by my Political Psychology Research Group show just the opposite: huge majorities of Americans still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.

Not so fast. Yesterday, in a NYT letter to the editor that seems to have gone virtually unnoticed in the blogosphere, the Pew’s Andrew Kohut says that Krosnick’s survey is marred by faulty methodology. This latest poll, according to Kohut, used words that encourged a positive response:

this is known in the polling world as acquiescence bias.

Kohut admits that none of the many questions pollsters use to gauge public attitudes on global warming are perfect,

but almost all, except Mr. Krosnick’s, show a significant decline in belief in climate change. Pew Research not only found fewer in 2009 seeing solid evidence of global warming, but also fewer calling it a very serious problem and fewer naming warming a top priority for the president and Congress.

Now I happen to think the big news on Krosnick’s survey revealed more important and uncomfortable truths that climate advocates would rather not deal with. But because there is such a tussle over these polls, I think it’s worth drawing attention to Kohut’s NYT letter, including his final thrust:

Far from being definitive, Mr. Krosnick’s finding is but one indicator and an outlier at that.

How did people miss this yesterday? Kohut’s pushback seems to have escaped even Morano’s notice, who surely would have trumpeted it on Climate Depot had he seen it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: classic rock, polls
MORE ABOUT: climate change, polls
  • http://twitter.com/IISSHolland @IISSHolland

    It seems to me that Krosnick addressed this in his Op-Ed, right? He says that his poll is the outlier because he asked simple questions, while polling groups like Pew, CNN, and Gallup ask needlessly complicated questions that muddy the waters and draw more negative responses than simple questions would.

    I'll quote him directly:

    "Notice that the question didn’t even offer the opportunity for respondents to say they believe global warming is definitely not happening — not the sort of question that will provide the most valid measurements.

    When surveys other than ours have asked simple and direct questions, they have produced results similar to ours. For example, in November, an ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 72 percent of respondents said the earth has been heating up, and a December poll by Ipsos/McClatchy found this proportion to be 70 percent."

  • http://www.skepticalscience.org Steven Sullivan

    I saw Kohut's letter yesterday and wondered if it would splash in the blogosphere. Thanks for highlighting it. It makes good points…one of which is that even *simple* questions have led to downward AGW-belief numbers in the polls.

    The original Krosnick OP-ed also raised a big flag with me when he wrote:

    " A February BBC News survey asked Britons, “From what you know and have heard, do you think that the earth’s climate is changing and global warming is taking place?” Seventy-five percent of respondents answered affirmatively, down a somewhat improbable eight percentage points from 83 percent in November."

    Improbable? Hardly, to those who actually observed what was written in the British press after 'Climategate' broke. Krosnick seems not to have done that.

  • http://www.yourbirdoasis.com Chantelle

    Honestly, I don't understand how the American public could entertain the thought that human beings and our actions do not make a noticeable impact on the global climate.

  • http://NOconsensus.org Donna Laframboise

    Earlier this week I blogged about another public opinion poll, commissioned by two academic bodies that research “climate change communication.”
    Media outlets in both the US and Canada cited that poll to suggest that concern about global warming is once again increasing in America.
    I argue there are several problems with their data, that the results are meaningless anyway because they fall within the margin of error or close to it, and that sections of the questionnaire not discussed in the press release paint an opposite picture.
    http://NoFrakkingConsensus.blogspot.com/2010/06/activists-poll-data_15.html
    What’s perhaps most disturbing in this case is that the academics who designed this research have expressed their intent (despite the data’s obvious shortcomings) to publish the results in “scientific journals.”

  • Ian Mc Vindicated

    Chantelle . its a big planet. Man is a gnat on it. We are such a small organism on this huge planet we could not concieveably alter its climate even if we tried.
    Next time you go for an airplane ride…look out the window. All you will see is open space.
    Ian

  • Justa Joe

    Chantelle, Pehaps you’d like to describe the mechanism by which humans  can “impact” the global climate in the catastrophic way being peddled by the wamists with man’s 0.28% contribution to global “greenhouse” gases.

  • Joe

    ” A February BBC News survey asked Britons, “From what you know and have heard, do you think that the earth’s climate is changing and global warming is taking place?”
    There are two questions here.  For the first I would have to answer “yes” as the climate is always changing.  As to “warming taking place” the answer would have to be “yes” except in those places on earth where the climate is cooling.
    Climate is always changing and if it isn’t getting cooler it is getting warmer.  Always has been that way and always will be that way.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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