What does the word global warming mean?
Does evidence suggest the words “global warming” make people care more about “climate change”?
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Does giving a problem a different name increase public support for solving it? It depends which poll you look at. Yesterday, the Guardian reported a new survey showing people care more about climate change when it’s called “global warming”. But two weeks ago, Mother Jones said polling shows “it doesn’t matter” which label is used.
The Guardian story is based on a Yale Project on Climate Change Communication survey. Mother Jones looked at Gallup polling data.
So why the difference? And does it actually matter which terms are used?
It doesn’t matter
With polling, you get out what you put in – the questions asked in polls affect the answers people give. In this case, differences in the polling questions, and the focus of the polls themselves, have meant the two polls come to different, but complementary conclusions.
Gallup asked two different questions. The first asked how people how worried they were about a list of eight issues, of which “climate change” and “global warming” were two. The polling found no significantly significant difference between the two terms in how worried people said they were.
To probe further, in a separate poll Gallup asked different people how serious they thought both “climate change” and “global warming” were. Again, the differences were slight.
One thing to note is if people are asked about both terms at the same time (as Gallup’s first poll did), it may produce a different result than if people are only quizzed about one term. However, when we did a similar poll which split responders into two groups, we found there wasn’t much difference between the two terms.
It does matter
At first glance, the Yale survey appears to come to the opposite conclusion that people care about “global warming” more.
But a closer look at the polling shows there isn’t actually much disagreement. When the Yale survey asked people how worried they were about the issue, they also found only slight differences in the answers depending on whether the question used the term “global warming” or “climate change” – supporting the Gallup polling.
When the survey gets into the detail of how people feel about the issue differences between the terms emerge, however.
The Yale survey found that generally speaking, people had a more intense response to questions phrased using the term “global warming” than “climate change”.
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