Poll: Facing extreme weather is changing Americans’ views about need for climate change action

Tropical hurricane approaching the U.S.
Tropical hurricane approaching the U.S.

Twenty-four percent of those who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years say extreme weather caused serious health problems for their households

For immediate release: June 21, 2022

Boston, MA – According to a new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, facing extreme weather events is impacting Americans’  views about the need for climate change action. Nationally, adults who report they have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years are currently more likely to see climate change in the United States as a crisis or a major problem (77%)  compared with those who have not been affected by such events (46%) (see Figure 1). Among adults affected by extreme weather events in the past five years, 37% see climate change in the U.S. as a crisis and 40% see it as a major problem. Among adults not affected by extreme weather events in the past five years, 16% see it as a crisis and 30% see it as a major problem.

This poll, The Impact of Extreme Weather on Views About Climate Policy in the United States, was conducted March 31 – May 8, 2022, among 2,646 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. See the Methodology below for further details.

On a range of policy measures, public support for government climate action is higher among U.S. adults who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years than those who have not. This includes higher support for stricter federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks (71% to 53%), regulations to make the electricity grid more resistant to extreme weather (64% to 47%), and increased state government spending to prepare for future weather disasters (63% to 39%).

In the current period of high inflation, the public largely favors policies seen as having less of a direct impact on their own financial situation. When faced with two broad policy choices—limiting carbon emissions and fortifying infrastructure to protect against weather disasters—there is generally higher public support for policies aimed at protecting against future weather disasters (e.g., 57% support increased state spending to prepare for future weather disasters) compared with reducing carbon emissions to limit climate change (e.g., only 39% support a carbon tax if it substantially increases their energy prices).

Notable examples of high public support for proposals seen as having a limited impact on the financial situation facing households are federal government requirements to reduce carbon emissions from power plants (78% support) and stricter federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks (67% support). However, even though it might hurt U.S. efforts to limit climate change, 62% of the public still thinks the government should allow oil producers to drill for more oil in the U.S. to try to help lower gasoline prices in the future.

“Facing extreme weather has had a substantial impact on millions of Americans, who have had serious property damage, health, and financial consequences,” said Robert Blendon, co-director of the survey and Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Experiencing these weather disasters has had a real impact on the public’s support for policies to prepare against future weather disasters, and to a lesser extent, support for policies to limit climate change by reducing carbon emissions.”

When it comes to serious health problems, among the 78% of U.S. households experiencing extreme weather events in the past five years, 24% reported facing serious health problems as a result, 17% reported serious financial problems, 14% reported evacuating from their home, and 14% reported major home or property damage (see Figure 2). In addition, when it comes to serious health problems faced by households as a result of extreme weather, 51% of Native Americans who have experienced extreme weather in the past five years said their households have faced serious health problems as a result, while 31% of Latino adults, 30% of Asian adults, 29% of Black adults, and 18% of White adults said this.

View the complete poll findings.



The poll in this study is part of an ongoing series of surveys developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. The research team consists of the following members at each institution.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Robert J. Blendon, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and Executive Director of HORP; John M. Benson, Senior Research Scientist and Managing Director of HORP; Mary G. Findling, Assistant Director of HORP; Chelsea Whitton Pearsall, Research Coordinator.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Carolyn Miller, Senior Program Officer, Research-Evaluation-Learning; Jordan Reese, Director of Media Relations.

NPR: Andrea Kissack, Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Neela Banerjee, Supervising Climate Editor, Science Desk; Jeff Brady, interim Energy and Environment Editor, National Desk; Rebecca Hersher, Reporter, Science Desk.

Interviews were conducted online and via telephone (cellphone and landline), March 31 – May 8, 2022, among a nationally representative, probability-based sample of 2,646 adults age 18 or older in the U.S. Data collection was conducted in English and Spanish by SSRS (Glen Mills, PA), an independent research company. The margin of sampling error, including the design effect, was ±2.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level for national data.

The core of the sample was address-based, with respondents sampled from the United States Postal Service’s Computerized Delivery Sequence (CDS) file. Sampled households were sent an invitation letter including a link to complete the survey online and a toll-free number, which respondents could call to complete the survey with a telephone interviewer. All respondents were sent a reminder postcard, which also included a QR code they could scan to be linked to the survey via a smart device. Households that could be matched to telephone numbers and that had not yet completed the survey were called to attempt to complete an interview. In order to represent the hardest-to-reach populations, the address-based sample (ABS) was supplemented by telephone interviews with respondents who had previously completed interviews on the weekly random-digit dialing (RDD) SSRS Omnibus poll and online using the SSRS Opinion Panel, a probability-based panel.

A total of 2,285 respondents completed the questionnaire online, 165 by calling in to complete, and 196 were completed as outbound telephone interviews.

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, the samples were weighted to match the distribution of the population based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS). Weighting parameters included: gender, age, education level, race/ethnicity, region, and party identification.

For more information:

Nicole Rura
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Photo: iStock/tilsonburg

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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

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