Giving Compass' Take:

• Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash explain why polls that show Americans' climate concerns are not reflected in election results. 

• How can polls be adjusted to more accurately reflect the values of the people? How can poll results be useful to funders who understand their limitations? 

• Learn about writing effective survey questions

According to a January public opinion survey, “Record numbers of Americans say they care about global warming.”

For several years, newspapers, citing Pew and Gallup polls, have proclaimed that the majority of Americans are convinced that climate change is real, is caused by humans and needs to be addressed. These polls also suggest widespread support for policy measures to combat climate change, such as a carbon tax.

But when it comes to elections, voters do not identify climate issues as key drivers of their voting decisions. In 2016 exit polls, neither Republican nor Democrat voters listed climate change among the most important issues that influenced their votes.

Even in the 2018 midterm elections, the exit polls did not place climate change among the electorate’s top concerns. Instead, 41 percent of voters ranked health policy as the most important issue driving their vote, followed by immigration, the economy and gun control.

What explains this disconnect between surveys and voting? Many issues may be baked into the polls themselves.

First, measured support for environmental issues may suffer from a social desirability bias. In other words, survey respondents might express support for policies to address climate change because they perceive this to be a socially appropriate response.

Inflated support also reflects problems in survey design. Some surveys ask respondents about their support for climate policy only, without placing it in the broader policy context.

Some climate surveys are also susceptible to the issues of question order effect and anchoring, where responses on earlier questions influence answers to subsequent questions.

Furthermore, the order of response categories influences the level of support.

Finally, most surveys ask for support for climate policy without spelling out its cost implications or any design flaws. But, in an electoral setting, policy opponents probably would highlight these exact issues.

Read the full article about elections and polls by Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash at The Conversation.