Swing Vote

Independent voters can’t seem to make up their minds about climate change. According to a new study, independents are more likely to agree that humans are causing climate change on days when the weather is unusually warm. When the temperature cools off again, so does their belief in global warming.

The researchers examined about 5,000 poll interviews with people in New Hampshire, taken on 99 days from 2010 to 2012. In each interview, the person was asked whether they believed that climate change was happening now and caused mainly by humans. Respondents also rated their political leaning on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 meaning strongly Democrat and 7 strongly Republican.

The temperature on the interview day or the previous day didn’t have much effect on Democrats’ or Republicans’ responses. But independents’ views “appear weakly held — literally blowing in the wind,” the study authors write in Weather, Climate, and Society. “Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, Independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to.”

The probability that an independent voter believed in human-caused climate change swung wildly from less than 40 percent to more than 70 percent, depending on the weather during the two-day window around the interview. The results suggest that “[p]ersonal weather experiences may thus represent a persuasive although globally unfortunate path toward greater concern about climate change,” the team writes. Roberta Kwok | 25 January 2013

Source: Hamilton, L.C. and M.D. Stampone. 2013. Blowin’ in the wind: Short-term weather and belief in anthropogenic climate change. Weather, Climate, and Society doi: 10.1175/WCAS-D-12-00048.1.

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