Nearly half of Republicans say there is "solid evidence" of global warming, a 37 percent jump from 2009, according to a new PEW Research Center poll.
According to the poll, conducted between October 4 and October 7, 67 percent of all Americans and 48 percent of Republicans say that the Earth is warming, a 4 percentage-point jump from last year and a 10 percentage-point jump from 2009; 42 percent of Americans and about a third of Republicans say that they believe the warming is caused by human activity.
Despite the uptick, the numbers are still far below numbers from the middle of last decade, when 77 percent of all Americans and nearly two thirds of Republicans believed the Earth was warming. According to experts, those numbers fell around the time when the economy collapsed in 2008 and people began worrying about other issues.
"Adults have a limited attention span for public policy issues and tend to grow tired of the same issues if they persist over a number of years … it may be applicable to a long-term issue such as climate change," Jon Miller, a University of Michigan professor wrote in a July study about Generation X's thoughts on climate change.
According to the PEW poll, 64 percent of Americans said global warming is a "somewhat serious" or "very serious" issue. Democrats remain the staunchest believers in climate change: 85 percent believe there is evidence of global warming, up from 77 percent last year and nearing the 91 percent high reached in 2006. About two thirds of independent voters believe there is evidence of climate change.
Senior citizens, those 65 and older, are the most skeptical that global warming is manmade. Though 62 percent believe the Earth is getting warmer, just 28 percent believe it's because of human activity. About half of those aged 18-49 believe global warming is caused by human activity.
According to the poll, nearly 9-in-10 likely Obama voters believes there is solid evidence for global warming, compared to just 42 percent of likely Romney voters. Just 18 percent of Romney voters believe global warming is human caused.
Ed Maibach, a George Mason University professor who studies public perception on climate change, says that in recent years, there has been more agreement across the political spectrum on the issue.
"Public concerned has increased again—it hasn't been back to the high water mark levels [of the mid 2000s]," he says. "The economy has clearly been the nation's greatest worry, and that displaces the worry about global warming. The media has also stopped covering the issue in a significant way. And our political leaders haven't been talking about it … but recently, people seem to think the weather has been getting worse and that climate change is the cause."
"It's likely because of the incredible displays of extreme weather events and abnormal climatic events," such as this summer's drought, that have brought climate change back into the limelight, he adds. "We've seen what climate change looks like on the ground now."
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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.