PRIORITY

In the video above, Professor Krosnick explains how the public attaches priority to the issue of global warming.

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM FACING THE U.S. TODAY

The most commonly used survey question assessing the public’s priorities on policy matters was first developed by George Gallup in the 1930s: “What is the most important problem facing this country today?”

In recent years, few Americans have answered that question by mentioning global warming. For example, in 2010, Gallup found that only 1% of a representative national sample mentioned global warming or the environment—not quite in last place, but just about. And this kind of result was observed across a multitude of surveys that have asked this question (in more than 450 surveys) since 1950.

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However, when asked a slightly different question by PPRG (1), the American public placed much higher priority on the issue .

The question asked, “What do you think will be the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?” As shown below, in 2010, global warming and the environment were mentioned most often (by 25%) by a national sample of Americans. Other issues were mentioned much less often. 

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For more information on the “most important problem” question, see here.

EFFORT TO ADDRESS THE WORLD’S FUTURE PROBLEMS

A 2009 survey asked a follow up question to the future problem question outlined above:  “How much effort do you think the federal government in Washington should put into dealing with the serious problems the world will face in the future if nothing is done to stop them? A great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little or none?”

76% of Americans wanted a lot or a great deal of government effort on issues that will affect the world in the future if nothing is done to stop them. In other words, Americans want government focusing not only on immediate problems but also on what they perceive to be long-term threats.

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References

  1. Yeager, D. S., Larson, S. B., Krosnick, J. A., & Tompson, T. (2011). Measuring Americans’ issue priorities a new version of the most important problem question reveals more concern about global warming and the environment. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(1), 125-138.
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