News: Quick Takes

New Elon Poll shows North Carolinians concerned about climate change, hurricanes

NASA/NOAA GOES Project
NASA/NOAA GOES Project

A new poll from Elon University shows some North Carolina voters have changed their minds about climate change as this hurricane season continues to bring strong winds and massive flooding.

The Elon University Poll surveyed 848 North Carolina voters between Oct. 1 to Oct. 4. Instead of a margin of error, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.6 percent. A credibility interval was used because the poll used a blended sample combining telephone voter list an opt-in samples.

Hurricane Florence delivered a deluge to North Carolina in mid-September, leaving behind an estimated $13 billion in damage. The onslaught of severe winds and heavy rainfall were reminiscent of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated Eastern North Carolina two years ago.

Only a small portion of those surveyed experienced flooding or wind damage to their property. About 17 percent saw flooding at their home or workplace, while nearly 34 percent experienced wind or tree damage to their property.

Of those with flooding or wind damage, 59 percent said they were getting the help they needed to recover, but 26 percent said they weren’t getting help.  

“Because of both the scale of the storm and changing forecasts over time, Hurricane Florence led to warnings for almost every county in North Carolina,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science. “As a result, Hurricane Florence provides a valuable case study to assess disaster readiness in North Carolina.”

Respondents to the Elon Poll were generally supportive of proposed policies to address future hurricanes, including increasing environmental regulations and incorporating climate change science into policies.

A little more than 76 percent said it’s a good idea to restrict real estate development in flood-prone areas, and 87.8 percent approve of making it easier to evacuate with pets during a disaster.

A majority of respondents also favored increasing environmental regulations for hog farms and coal ash ponds. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said it was a good idea to strengthen environmental regulations for hog farms, while 72 percent said the same for coal ash ponds.

Hurricane Florence’s devastation has helped bring the issue of climate change back to the public’s attention. Almost 54 percent said hurricanes are becoming more severe, while 42.7 percent said they haven’t changed in severity. Only 2.8 percent said hurricanes are less severe than in the past.

More than 50 percent of respondents said it’s very likely climate change would negatively impact coastal communities in North Carolina within the next 50 years. Thirty percent said it’s somewhat likely, and 17.8 percent said it’s not likely to affect the coast.

“Measuring the extent and isolating the causes of changes in voter attitudes on issues like climate change is difficult for pollsters from a methodological perspective,” Husser said. “However, our results suggest that Hurricane Florence has led to a shift in some voters’ attitudes on climate change.”

The Elon Poll asked about the potential impact of climate change on coastal communities in April 2017. Nearly 45 percent of respondents said climate change was very likely to affect coastal communities, while 23 percent said it’s not at all likely to have an impact.

Views on climate change fall along partisan lines. Republicans are more likely than Democrats and Independents to say it’s not likely at all that climate change would impact coastal communities in the future.

But the percentage of Republicans who shared that sentiment diminished from the April 2017 poll to the October 2018 poll. Previously, 45 percent of Republicans dismissed the idea that climate change would impact coastal communities, but now 31 percent hold that belief.