Study 5. January 2015 Hypothetical Candidates and Global Warming

By 2015, Americans heard a number of repeated claims relating to global warming– statements that expressed opposing sentiments.

“I am not a scientist,” had become a routine reply for some Republican leaders. Some of those they were ill-equipped to make claims about the subject, and the phrase also was used by those who called into question the existence and causes of global warming. President Obama was among many who contended that climate change is occurring and should be addressed. Others claimed that it is a hoax and should not be addressed(1).

The Public’s Take

To learn about people’s reactions to these varying claims, and in particular whether they were likely to vote for candidates making such pronouncements, a January 2015 survey explored these questions by proposing a hypothetical electoral match-up.

In those hypothetical contests, people favored candidates who viewed global warming as a real concern. They were more likely to vote for a Senate or presidential candidate who believed it was occurring and supported policies to address it. People were less likely to vote for a candidate who denied the science of global warming.They took a comparatively dim view of a candidate who claimed he or she was not a scientist.

Survey details

A nationally representative sampling of adults heard DID RESPONDENTS HEAR A RECORDING OR HEAR THE INTERVIEWER READ THESE STATEMENTS? statements from three hypothetical candidates running for the U.S. Senate or for president. Each hypothetical candidate expressed a distinct view on climate change:

  • That global warming it is occurring and should be addressed (‘green’ statement). Respondents heard this statement—

“I believe that global warming has been happening for the past 100 years, mainly because we have been burning fossil fuels and putting out greenhouse gasses.  Now is the time for us to be using new forms of energy that are made in America and will be renewable forever.  We can manufacture better cars that use less gasoline and build better appliances that use less electricity.  We need to transform the outdated ways of generating energy into new ones that create jobs and entire industries, and stop the damage we’ve been doing to the environment.”

  • That global warming is a hoax and should not be addressed (‘not-green’ statement). Respondents heard this statement –

“The science on global warming is a hoax and is an attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the American people. I don’t buy into the whole man-caused global warming mantra. We must spend no effort to deal with something that is not a problem at all. We should not invest in windmills and solar panels as alternative energy sources. Instead we should continue to focus on our traditional sources of energy: coal, oil, and natural gas. We should expand energy production in our country, including continuing to mine our coal and doing more drilling for oil here at home.”

  • That the candidate is not a scientist and thus is ill-equipped to make claims about global warming. Respondents heard this statement –

“When people ask me if I believe global warming has been happening, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change, because I am not a scientist. When people ask me if I believe human activity causes global warming, I don’t know. There is significant scientific dispute about that. We can debate this forever. I am not qualified to make this decision. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”

The order in which respondents heard these statements was randomized. Respondents were asked, “If a candidate says this, would this make you more likely to vote for this candidate, less likely to vote for this candidate, or would it not affect how likely you would be to vote for this candidate?”


Overall, people were more likely to vote for the candidate making a green statement (66%) and less likely to vote for the one with the non-green script (67%).  These findings are especially strong for those who believed global warming has been happening, who attached high personal importance to the issue, and who were Democrats and Independents.  


  1. Miami Herald, May 27, 2014. by Marc Caputo.
  2. James Inhofe book, The Greatest Hoax, How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

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