Environment/Nature

The Daily Caller distorts the results of the latest CNN/Gallup poll on global warming

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastach published another superficial and oversimplified story about global warming, this time about the latest CNN/Gallup poll.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, has a history of misleading its readers when it comes to the subject of industrial climate disruption1 (aka global warming or climate change). They have published error-filled commentaries by an established liar, Steve Milloy. They have misrepresented legal filings with the Supreme Court of the United States and when they were criticized for their blatant errors, the managing editor refused to correct or retract the false claims. And they have published shallow and oversimplified stories about global warming science, research, funding, and economics.

Today, one of their climate and energy contributors, Michael Bastach, published another story that either missed or ignored important details of the story. S&R looked at the actual poll questions and detailed results (linked from the global warming section of the CNN article) and found that the detailed results contained not just how answers from December 2014, but from prior polls going back to 2007 in one case and back to 1997 in the other. When considered in context, the detailed results paint a very different picture than that painted by Bastach.

Figure 2

Figure 1

S&R found that CNN and Gallup asked the following question four times starting in 1997: “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”. In 1997, 69% of respondents answered that they didn’t think global warming would be a threat in their lifetimes. That had fallen to 65% in 2002 and has since fallen to 57% (with a sample error of 4.5%). Similarly, in 1997 only 25% of respondents thought global warming would be a threat to their way of life, but that had risen to 33% in 2002 and is now 43%. Had Bastach scratched the surface of the poll’s results, he wouldn’t have even asked his rhetorical question, since the trend clearly shows that more people are concluding that global warming will be a serious threat to their way of life in their lifetimes.

Figure 1

Figure 2

S&R also found that CNN and Gallup asked the following question seven times starting 2007:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming:

  • Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities such as power plants and factories [Fact/Industry in Figure 2]
  • Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by natural changes that have nothing to do with emissions from cars and industrial facilities [Fact/Nature in Figure 2]
  • Global warming is a theory that has yet to be proven [Not Fact in Figure 2]
  • No opinion

As the detailed data shows, the most people (56% of respondents) thought that global warming was a fact and largely driven by human activity in 2007, dropping to a low of 45% in the days immediately following the illegal publication of hacked CRU emails known as Climategate (and months before every independent investigation cleared the researchers of scientific misconduct), and rising slowly but steadily ever since. The number of respondents who consider global warming to be largely natural in origin has stayed reasonably steady over the same period, while the number of respondents who thought global warming is not proven fact spiked in 2009 (again driven by Climategate) but has fallen off since.

Bastach made a couple of errors in his story that he should not have made were he aware of and understood these details. First, the title of his story – “SHOCK POLL: 57% of Americans Say Global Warming Is Not A Threat” – isn’t accurate. The results of the poll clearly show that the results are hardly shocking to anyone who has been paying attention. Second, the first sentence of his story asks “Is this a new climate consensus?” The tone of his story makes it clear that he’s implying that Americans are rejecting global warming, while the trends show that, if anything, a new climate consensus is forming that global warming is a “serious threat” to Americans’ ways of life – exactly opposite the consensus Bastach is portraying. And finally, Bastach writes of arguments to address global warming that they don’t “seem to be resonating with the American people, as 57% of [Americans] don’t see global warming as a threat to their lives.” Given that the poll’s results show an increase of 18% of respondents seeing a threat over the last 17 years, Bastach’s claim is outright false.

Bastach’s publication record at the Daily Caller indicates that he writes between three and five climate-related stories every day. As a result it’s hardly a surprise that he doesn’t have the time to understand the details and nuances of all the stories he’s reporting. At the moment it’s unclear whether Bastach’s stories are superficial and oversimplified because he lacks the time to do a proper job of reporting, or whether his stories are superficial and oversimplified because he chooses to make them so. If it’s the former, then his readers would be better served by Bastach writing less, but taking more care to report accurately. If it’s the latter, than Bastach is an unethical pseudo-journalist whose readers would be best served by abandoning Bastach entirely.

1: “Industrial Climate Disruption” is defined as the consensus position that the global climate is changing, that the emission of greenhouse gases by human industry is the dominant driver of those changes, and that the changes will almost certainly be disruptive to human society and global ecology.

2 replies »

  1. the number one threat to human survival is willful ignorance, yet we have a lot of willfully ignorant politicians who would keep the rest of America (and maybe the world) ignorant of the truth. Twisting facts and distorting the truth into a lie is a symptom of willful ignorance and must be shown for what it is. idiocy.

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