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Climate Activism: Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behaviors – November 2019


Executive Summary

Drawing on a nationally representative survey (N = 1,303; including 1,114 registered voters), this report describes how Americans view climate activism – including their views of public activists, their sense of efficacy about climate activism, and the activism behaviors they are taking or would consider.

Attitudes About Climate Activists

  • About half of Americans (53%) either “strongly” or “somewhat” support climate activists who urge elected officials to take action to reduce global warming. Democrats are the most likely to support climate activists (84%), followed by Independents (50%), and Republicans (23%).
  • Nearly four in ten Americans (38%) personally identify with climate activists. Democrats are the most likely to identify with climate activists (58%), followed by Independents (41%), and Republicans (13%).

Activism Efficacy

  • Only one in three Americans (33%) think elected officials are influenced by the advocacy actions of citizens (for example, rallies, marches, petitions, phone calls, etc.) when officials consider policies to reduce global warming.
  • About half of Americans are at least “moderately confident” that people like them, working together, can influence what local businesses (50%) or their local government (48%) do about global warming. Fewer Americans are confident that they can influence what their state governments (42%), corporations (37%), or the federal government (35%) do about global warming.

Individual and Collective Action to Reduce Global Warming

  • About half of Americans say they would sign a petition about global warming (55%) or vote for a candidate for public office because of their position on global warming (51%), if a person they like and respect asked them to.
  • If asked by someone they like and respect, three in ten Americans (31%) would support an organization engaging in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse, and one in five (20%) say they would personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience.
  • Three in ten Americans say that, if asked by a person they like and respect, they would meet with an elected official or their staff (34%) or contact government officials (33%) about global warming. However, fewer Americans have actually taken these actions in the past year – only 11% say they have contacted an elected official during the past 12 months to urge them to take action to reduce global warming.
  • About one in three Americans (32%) have rewarded companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products in the past 12 months, and about one in four (27%) have punished companies that are opposing steps to reduce global warming by not buying their products.
  • Only 3% of Americans say they are currently participating in a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming. However, an additional 11% say they “definitely would” participate in such a campaign, and another 21% say they “probably would.”
  • Americans overestimate how many people in the U.S. have urged an elected official to take action to reduce global warming in the past 12 months, estimating on average that 28% of Americans have done so (while in fact, only 11% say they have done so).
  • Most Americans think the percentage of adults in the U.S. who have contacted elected officials to urge them to take action to reduce global warming has stayed about the same over the past 12 months (53%) and that it will continue to stay about the same over the next 12 months (51%). However, about four in ten Americans think those percentages have increased in the past year (40%) or will increase over the next year (42%). Few Americans (about 5%) think those percentages have decreased in the past year or will decrease over the next year.

The Impact of Public Figures on Climate Activism

  • Americans are familiar with a number of public figures who support climate action, including Leonardo DiCaprio (85% of Americans are familiar with him), Pope Francis (77%), Bill Nye “The Science Guy” (77%), Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (63%), and the Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg (61%).
  • Many Americans trust a number of public figures as sources of information about global warming. Of Americans who are familiar with each public figure, the highest percentage (76%) trust Bill Nye “The Science Guy” as a source of information. Six in ten or more also trust Greta Thunberg (67%) and/or Pope Francis (64%). Half or more trust Leonardo DiCaprio (58%) and/or Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (51%).
  • Many Americans say they would join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming if various public figures asked Americans to. Of Americans who are familiar with each public figure, about four in ten would join a campaign if Greta Thunberg (43%) or Bill Nye “The Science Guy” (42%) asked Americans to. About one in three would join a campaign if Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (34%), Pope Francis (34%), and/or Leonardo DiCaprio (31%) asked Americans to.