spiral of silence

Is There a Climate “Spiral of Silence” in America?

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Climate Note surveys have repeatedly shown that most Americans are interested in the issue of global warming and consider it personally important. However, they have also shown that “for most Americans, climate change is not a common topic of conversation or something they hear about much in their daily lives.” Edward MaibachAnthony LeiserowitzSeth RosenthalConnie Roser-Renouf and Matthew Cutler suggest that there is a climate change “spiral of silence,” in which “even people who care about the issue, shy away from discussing it because they so infrequently hear other people talking about it – reinforcing the spiral.”

They used data from their most recent national survey to explore the “spiral of silence.” Citing their Climate Note article on September 29th, findings include:

Americans are interested in global warming.

The majority of Americans are interested in the issue of global warming. Two in three Americans are either “very” (22%) or “moderately” (45%) interested. Only about one in three is “not very” (16%) or “not at all” (16%) interested in it.

Global warming is personally important to a majority of Americans.

The majority of Americans also say global warming is important to them personally. Six in ten say the issue is “extremely” (9%), “very” (17%), or “moderately” (35%) important to them. Fewer Americans – about four in ten – say global warming is “not too” (21%) or “not at all” (17%) important to them personally.

Americans don’t hear about global warming frequently in the media.

Fewer than half of Americans say they hear global warming discussed in the media (TV, movies, radio, newspapers/news websites, magazines, etc.) “at least once a week” (22%) or even “at least once a month” (22%). One in four Americans (26%) say they hear about the topic in the media “several times a year,” while 30% say “once a year or less,” “never,” or “not sure.”

Americans don’t often hear global warming discussed.

Nearly seven in ten Americans (68%) hear other people they know discussing global warming only “several times a year” or less often, and one in four (24%) “never” hear people they know discussing it. Fewer than one in five (18%) hear people they know discussing global warming at least once a month.

Americans rarely discuss global warming with family and friends.

About seven in ten Americans report that they “rarely” (36%) or “never” (32%) discuss global warming with family and friends, which has been trending slightly upward over the past eight years.

Many Americans who are interested in global warming or think it’s important are not hearing or talking about it.

Although the majority of Americans are interested in global warming and say it is important to them personally, many of those same people say they don’t hear about it in the media, from people they know, or from family and friends.

Specifically, among Americans who are interested in global warming or who say global warming is important to them personally, about half either hear about global warming in the media only several times a year or less often (40% and 39% respectively), or say they’re not sure how often they hear about it/gave no response (12% and 13% respectively). An even larger percentage – three in four who are interested in global warming or think it is important – hear other people they know talk about it only several times a year or less often (66% and 63% respectively) or say they’re not sure/gave no response (both 12%). Similarly, more than half of those who are interested or think global warming is important “rarely” or “never” talk about it with family and friends (57% and 54% respectively).

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Many of our Rewilding readers believe there a spiral of silence about climate change in America and find others hesitant to talk about it. Do you think this is true, and if so, why?

Please share your answers via Twitter  @YaleClimateComm and @Mason4C, using the hashtag #climatesilence, or on their Facebook pages: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Let’s talk about it.

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