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Does recent unusual weather affect views on climate change? Not really, recent study suggests

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Does a stretch of unseasonable warmth do much to influence people’s views on climate change?

One recent study suggests the answer is: No.

This study looked at two big data points. One was weather data for the winter of 2012, an unusually warm one across most of the country—and the 4th-warmest on record for the contiguous US as a whole.

The researchers then created “anomaly measures” for each state, said Aaron McCright, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University and the study’s lead author.

The other data point was Gallup polling data looking at beliefs about climate change from the spring of 2013.

The result? “Living in a state that had much warmer than normal temperatures had no influence on respondents’ attributing that warmth to global warming,” McCright said.

But while recent weather conditions had no effect, McCright says there was a strong link to some “individual-level variables: their pre-existing global warming belief, their belief in the scientific consensus, their party identification, [and] their political ideology.”

Though the scientific literature had been split on whether and how much unusual weather influences people’s beliefs about climate change, McCright says the latest research seems to show political leanings trumping weather extremes when it comes to influencing those views—with more self-identified Democrats than Republicans willing to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-driven.

And McCright says that in pretty much all studies, “Party or ideology or both is a statistically significant factor in people’s views about climate change. So in that case, what we found was very consistent with the literature.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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