Research Press Release

Climate change: Americans may underestimate public support for climate policies

Nature Communications

August 24, 2022

Around 80–90% of Americans may underestimate support for climate change mitigation policies and public concern for climate change, suggests a paper published in Nature Communications. The findings, based on a representative sample of 6,119 Americans, demonstrate a disconnection between people’s perceptions of support for climate change policies and highlights potential challenges for advancing climate policies.

Shared norms and threat perceptions play a role in whether action is taken on collective issues, such as climate change. However, if there is a perception of a lack of concern or lack of support for an issue, action may be hampered. This misperception, or ‘pluralistic ignorance’, may in turn lead to false conclusions about majority beliefs.

Gregg Sparkman and colleagues assessed responses from a representative sample of 6,119 Americans taken between April and May 2021 to explore if concern about climate change and support for transformative climate policies, such as a 100% renewable energy mandate for electricity, was accurately perceived. The authors found that around 80–90% of Americans in the sample underestimate the true level of concern for climate change as well as support for climate policies. They found that this underestimation was true across all states, political affiliations and demographics assessed. They found that while 66–80% of participants support these policies, those in the sample estimate the prevalence of public support to be between 37–43%. The authors indicate that supporters of major climate policies outnumber opponents by two to one, but public perception is that the opposite is true.

Sparkman and co-authors argue that misconceptions about support for climate policies may inhibit climate policy support and action being taken. They suggest that interventions to correct the perception of support for these policies may be needed to aid efforts to pass climate policies.


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