'Global warming' and 'climate change' are two terms used to refer to the same phenomena but more people believe in the latter than the former, according to a new study.
Jonathon Schuldt at University of Michigan and his colleagues conducted a question wording experiment in the American Life Panel, an online survey conducted by RAND, with a national sample of 2,267 U.S. adults.
In the following question, half the participants heard one version, half heard the other:
"You may have heard about the idea that the world's temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called 'global warming' ['climate change']. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?"
The team found that 74 percent of people thought the problem was real when it was referred to as climate change, while about 68 percent thought it was real when it was referred to as global warming.
Schuldt said, "While global warming focuses attention on temperature increases, climate change focuses attention on more general changes."
"Thus, an unusually cold day may increase doubts about global warming more so than about climate change. Given these different associations and the partisan nature of this issue, climate change believers and skeptics might be expected to vary in their use of these terms."
The researchers also found that conservative think tanks tend to call the phenomenon global warming, while liberal think tanks call it climate change.
60 percent of Republicans reported that they thought climate change was real, for example, only 44 percent said they believed in the reality of global warming.
In contrast, about 86 percent of Democrats thought climate change was a serious problem, no matter what it was called.
"The extent of the partisan divide on this issue depends heavily on question wording," said Norbert Schwarz.
"When the issue is framed as global warming, the partisan divide is nearly 42 percentage points. But when the frame is climate change, the partisan divide drops to about 26 percentage points."
The study is published in the forthcoming issue of Public Opinion Quarterly.