Skip to main content


Log in

Perceived scientific agreement and support for government action on climate change in the USA

  • Published:
Climatic Change Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Given the well-documented campaign in the USA to deny the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change (a major goal of which is to “manufacture uncertainty” in the minds of policy-makers and the general public), we examine the influence that perception of the scientific agreement on global warming has on the public’s beliefs about global warming and support for government action to reduce emissions. A recent study by Ding et al. (Nat Clim Chang 1:462–466, 2011) using nationally representative survey data from 2010 finds that misperception of scientific agreement among climate scientists is associated with lower levels of support for climate policy and beliefs that action should be taken to deal with global warming. Our study replicates and extends Ding et al. (Nat Clim Chang 1:462–466, 2011) using nationally representative survey data from March 2012. We generally confirm their findings, suggesting that the crucial role of perceived scientific agreement on views of global warming and support for climate policy is robust. Further, we show that political orientation has a significant influence on perceived scientific agreement, global warming beliefs, and support for government action to reduce emissions. Our results suggest the importance of improving public perception of the scientific agreement on global warming, but in ways that do not trigger or aggravate ideological or partisan divisions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Bollen K (1989) Structural equations with latent variables. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Bord RJ, O’Connor RE, Fischer A (2000) In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change? Pub Underst Sci 9:205–218

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bostrom A et al (2011) Causal thinking and support for climate change policies: international survey findings. Glob Environ Chang 22:210–222

    Google Scholar 

  • Boykoff MT (2011) Who speaks for the climate?: Making sense of media reporting on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dietz T, Dan A, Shwom R (2007) Support for climate change policy: social psychological and social structural influences. Rural Sociol 72:185–214

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ding D, Maibach EW, Zhao X, Roser-Renouf C, Leiserowitz A (2011) Support for climate policy and societal action are linked to perceptions about scientific agreement. Nat Clim Chang 1:462–466

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dunlap RE, McCright AM (2011) Organized climate change denial. In: Dryzek J, Norgaard R, Schlosberg D (eds) Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, pp 144–160

  • Hamilton LC (2011) Education, politics, and opinions about climate change: evidence for interaction effects. Clim Chang 104:231–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hayes AF (2009) Beyond Baron and Kenny: statistical mediation analysis in the new millennium. Commun Monogr 76:408–420

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoggan J (2009) Climate cover-up: the crusade to deny global warming. Greystone Books, Vancouver

    Google Scholar 

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) IPCC fourth assessment report. IPCC, Geneva

    Google Scholar 

  • Kline RB (2011) Principles and practices of structural equation modeling, 3rd edn. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Krosnick JA, Holbrook AL, Lowe L, Visser PS (2006) The origins and consequences of democratic citizens’ policy agendas: a study of popular concern about global warming. Clim Chang 77:7–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leiserowitz A (2006) Climate change risk perception and policy preferences: the role of affect, imagery, and values analysis. Clim Chang 77:45–72

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Malka A, Krosnick JA, Langer G (2009) The association of knowledge with concern about global warming. Risk Anal 29:633–647

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCright AM (2009) The social bases of climate change concern, knowledge, and policy support in the US general public. Hofstra Law Rev 37:1017–1047

    Google Scholar 

  • McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2003) Defeating Kyoto: the conservative movement’s impact on U.S. climate change policy. Soc Probl 50(3):348–373

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2010) Anti-reflexivity: the American conservative movement’s success in undermining climate science and policy. Theory, Cult Soc 27(2–3):100–133

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2011) The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociol Q 52:155–194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mooney C (2012) The Republican brain: the science of why they deny science—and reality. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council (2010) Advancing the science of climate change. National Academy Press, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Connor RE, Bord RJ, Fisher A (1999) Risk perceptions, general environmental beliefs, and willingness to address climate change. Risk Anal 19:461–471

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Connor RE, Bord RJ, Yarnal B, Wiefek N (2002) Who wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Soc Sci Q 83:1–17

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oreskes N, Conway EM (2010) Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Powell JL (2011) The inquisition of climate science. Columbia University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Xiao C, Hong D (2010) Gender and concern for environmental issues in urban China. Soc Nat Resour 25:468–482

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zahran S, Brody SD, Grover H, Vedlitz A (2006) Climate change vulnerability and policy support. Soc Nat Resour 19:771–789

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank the Gallup Organization for making the data available for analysis.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aaron M. McCright.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

McCright, A.M., Dunlap, R.E. & Xiao, C. Perceived scientific agreement and support for government action on climate change in the USA. Climatic Change 119, 511–518 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: