Public Opinion and Climate Change: US and Canada compared

Despite inaction by both Canadian federal and provincial governments on climate change, recent public opinion research conducted by Pr Barry Rabe (University of Michigan), Pr Christopher Borick (Muhlenberg College), and Pr Erick Lachapelle (Université de Montréal) in United States and Canada shows an agreement among the majority of the respondents of the two countries on the topic both on climate science and measures that should be adopted by governments. However, Americans and Canadians respondents also expressed a limited willingness to pay for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions , although it is higher in the case of Canada than United States.

Public Opinion and Climate Science

A majority of Canadians (80%) and Americans (58%) believe that there is solid evidence of global warming. Although only 41% of the US respondents identified to the republican party (compared to 69% of the democrats) believed in the existence of climate change. A majority of US respondents identified to the Tea Party (54%) express the opinion that climate change does in fact exist.

In Canada, even among the supporters of the conservatives party, 64% agree that climate change exists (compared to 91% of the liberals, 84% of the New Democrat, 90% of the Bloc québécois and 87% of the Greens supporters).

Asked if the scientists are overstating evidence about global warming, 47% of the US respondents agreed  (compared to 49% which disagree). In comparison only 36% of Canadians agree (compared to 60% who disagree).

Who Should Act?

In both countries, it is the federal government that is most often perceived as having a great deal of responsibility to address the issue of climate change (43% in the US and 65% in Canada) when compared to other levels of government (e.g. state/province and local).

… and How?

Both American and Canadian respondents support the adoption of a vast array of measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, from cap-and-trade (a system that allows government to cap the emissions of large industries, while distributing tradable emission permits), to the promotion of nuclear power, and renewable electricity.

For each of the six measures included in the survey, only a minority of respondents expressed the opinion that it should not be adopted. The notable exception is gas taxes that 54% of Americans do not which to see adopted (compared to 41% of Canadians). However, a majority of respondents in the US (53%) and Canada (67%) agree with the idea of a broader fossil fuel taxes.

How Much Are We Willing to Pay?

However, as shown in the following table, Canadians and Americans have a limited willingness to pay for measures reducing GHG emissions. When ask how much they would like to pay for an increase in renewable energy production 73% of Canadians and 56% of Americans affirm that they are willing to pay 1$ or more each year, with only 26% of Canadians and 13% of Americans accepting to pay more than 100$ per year.

Therefore, policy-makers in both countries should be concerned to adopt cost-effective measures that will reduce GHG emissions and respect the limited willingness to pay of their constituents. This concern is more pressing in the case of the United States than Canada.


The sample used in the study include 916 residents of the United States and 1214 Canadian residents, reached by phone (landline and cellphone for the US, only landline for Canada) respectively between November 15 and December 9 2010 and January 13 and February 4 2011. The margin of errors for the US is +/- 3% and Canada +/- 2.8%.

The complete report can be accessed at:

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One Response to Public Opinion and Climate Change: US and Canada compared

  1. avatar Alicia says:

    David, good job summarizing the relevant research findings. Your table is missing and I would encourage you to make your link an actual link rather than just listing the web address.
    Furthermore, I think your blog post could be made more personal. Let us know what your interpretations of these findings are. Also, how should these findings direct are actions on climate change.

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