Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


It's all in a name: 'Global warming' vs. 'climate change'

Many Americans are skeptical about whether the world's weather is changing, but apparently the degree of skepticism varies systematically depending on what that change is called.

According to a University of Michigan study published in the forthcoming issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, more people believe in "climate change" than in "global warming."

"Wording matters," said Jonathon Schuldt, the lead author of the article about the study and a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Psychology.

Schuldt co-authored the study with U-M psychologists Sara Konrath and Norbert Schwarz. For the research, they conducted a question wording experiment in the American Life Panel, an online survey conducted by RAND, with a national sample of 2,267 U.S. adults. Participants were asked to report their level of certainty about whether global climate change is a serious problem. In the following question, half the participants heard one version, half heard the other:

"You may have heard about the idea that the world's temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called 'global warming' ['climate change']. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?

Overall, 74 percent of people thought the problem was real when it was referred to as climate change, while about 68 percent thought it was real when it was referred to as global warming.

These different levels of belief may stem from the different associations carried by the two terms, Schuldt said. "While global warming focuses attention on temperature increases, climate change focuses attention on more general changes," he said. "Thus, an unusually cold day may increase doubts about global warming more so than about climate change. Given these different associations and the partisan nature of this issue, climate change believers and skeptics might be expected to vary in their use of these terms."

As part of the study, the researchers also analyzed the use of these two terms on political think tank websites, finding that liberals and conservatives used different terms. Conservative think tanks tend to call the phenomenon global warming, while liberal think tanks call it climate change.

And when the researchers analyzed responses to the survey by political orientation, they found that the different overall levels in belief were driven almost entirely by participants who identified themselves as Republicans. While 60 percent of Republicans reported that they thought climate change was real, for example, only 44 percent said they believed in the reality of global warming.

In contrast, about 86 percent of Democrats thought climate change was a serious problem, no matter what it was called. Why weren't they influenced by question wording? "It might be a ceiling effect, given their high level of belief," Konrath said. "Or it could be that Democrats' beliefs about global climate change might be more crystallized, and as a result, more protected from subtle manipulations."

The good news is that Americans may not be as polarized on the issue as previously thought. "The extent of the partisan divide on this issue depends heavily on question wording," said Schwarz, who is also affiliated with the U-M Ross Business School and the Institute of Social Research (ISR). "When the issue is framed as global warming, the partisan divide is nearly 42 percentage points. But when the frame is climate change, the partisan divide drops to about 26 percentage points."

For a free reprint from the journal's online depository:

U-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at

Diane Swanbrow | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Climate change global climate change global warming

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>