Polling can be as fickle as the weather

Here’s an interesting graph from a journal article published by two professors at the University of New Hampshire. They found that while opinions of both Republicans and Democrats about the existence and cause of climate change are relatively stable, the opinions of independents on anthropogenic climate change, sampled in a series of 5,000 interviews over two and a half years, varied widely based on how unseasonably warm it was on the day of and the day before they were polled. The hotter it was, the more they believed that humans were causing climate change.

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In addition to being yet another sad commentary on how far public opinion is lagging behind the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, this finding illustrates an important point about public opinion research: survey results represent a snapshot in time and can be influenced by all kinds of external factors.

Polls tell us not how things are, but how they are perceived within a certain methodological framework. They shouldn’t be abused as blunt political instruments, but used as a lenses – shaped and tinted – to give us a view of one part of the world.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald