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Saint Leo University Poll Finds Majority Favor Teaching Climate Change in Schools

A majority of the people responding to a survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute believe climate change should be taught as an accepted scientific theory in the public schools.

The survey was conducted both nationally and within Florida. In both cases, more than six in 10 respondents agreed strongly or agreed somewhat that climate change is a topic that should be taught in public primary and secondary schools.

The survey was conducted online from February 16 through February 25, 2019. The national sample consisted of 1,000 respondents, and the resulting margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The same questions were asked of 500 respondents in Florida, which is home to both Saint Leo University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, and its nonpartisan Saint Leo University Polling Institute. With the Florida results, the margin of error for respondents is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Questions on public education and climate change were added this year to a battery of questions that the Saint Leo University Polling Institute has been posing each year since 2015.

Photo by Markus Spiske

The new questions were a logical outgrowth of evidence that the general public is wondering about the implications of climate change. Since 2015, every year more than 70 percent of respondents in the national poll have indicated they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change. In Florida, responses of those very concerned and somewhat concerned have been at least 67 percent since 2015.

Even when results vary by a few percentage points from one year to the next on a question like this, the long-term pattern tells the tale, said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist who teaches at the university. In 2019, 35.8 percent of U.S. respondents said they were “very concerned” about climate change, and another 35.5 percent said they are “somewhat concerned,” accounting for the sum of 71.3 percent nationally who are concerned about the issue. By contrast, a sum of 25.9 percent nationally said they are either “somewhat unconcerned” (11.6 percent) or “not at all concerned” (14.3 percent).

In Florida, 39.6 percent of the 2019 survey respondents said they are “very concerned” and another 29 percent said they are “somewhat concerned,” amounting to 68.6 percent. Those who said they are “somewhat unconcerned” were 13 percent of those answering, and those who said they are “not at all concerned” accounted for 16 percent of the answers, so those with less or no concern amounted to 29 percent.

As concern has been documented over a period of time, the polling institute decided this year to ask the public whether or not it favors certain actions being tried in various areas in response to climate change. Education of the next generation was one topic.

“Concern about global climate change remains high, so it is logical that a majority of Americans want global climate change to be taught in primary and secondary schools,’’ observed Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the Saint Leo University science faculty. “A strong majority of our respondents support this idea.’’

Nationally, 64.4 percent agree somewhat or agree strongly that climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools. In Florida, a combined 65.2 percent agreed strongly or somewhat. Those who disagree somewhat or who disagree strongly accounted for 25.5 percent of the national respondents and 25.4 percent of Florida respondents.

People were asked to consider whether local regions might equip themselves to mitigate climate change. Some areas—such as Tampa Bay, South Florida, Boston, Virginia, and communities in the West—have publicly announced and launched coalitions or other entities to serve their own areas.

“Since little has been done on the national level, and with various communities taking the initiative to address the issue at a local level, we wanted to see if this idea is seen as a priority among the public,” Ondrovic said. In the national survey, nearly 58 percent said a local initiative seems a worthy idea and in peninsular Florida more than 65 percent thought so. People were not necessarily aware whether their local areas have a department or some kind of joint plan to address climate problems.

The survey also found in both the national and Florida samples that one-quarter of respondents say that individuals are capable of preventing causes of global warming through personal choices and actions. Follow-up questions revealed the most common choice (from a long list) made to help prevent carbon pollution was the purchase of higher efficiency appliances.

Press releases with more detail are available at polls.saintleo.edu. Findings for each survey question on the topic have been compiled and posted under Poll Reports on the same page. Additional information includes Americans’ views on banning plastic straws and single-use plastic shopping bags.

This story originally appeared on the Saint Leo University website.