The following graph is derived from that in the paper, "Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010", by
, Department of Culture and Communications, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA,
, Department of Sociology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and
, Department of Sociology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. The paper was published in the science journal Climatic Change, on February 3, 2012 (DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0403-y).
It shows that, rather that wait for public opinion to change before taking controversial positions, the statements and actions of politicians help formulate public opinion.
Here are some important quotes from the above paper by Brulle et al:
"Beginning in the first quarter of 2006, and continuing until the third quarter of 2007, there was a steady and persistent increase in the CCTI [Climate Change Threat Index]....Prominent Republican Senators such as John McCain were openly advocating for climate change legislation and working with Democratic Senators to pass it. Congressman Newt Gingrich appeared in commercials with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to support government action to address climate change.
Clearly, partisanship over the issue of climate change declined in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, these elite cues worked to increase concern about this topic. This congressional unity was coupled with the release of An Inconvenient Truth, and its subsequent receipt of an Academy Award, which greatly increased public concern about climate change. The subsequent release of the IPCC report in 2007 further facilitated increases in the CCTI. During this period, GDP was increasing, and unemployment remained low and stable.
Then, beginning in 2008, the level of Republican anti-environmental voting increased progressively, reaching the highest level ever recorded in 2010. Whatever remained of the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on environmental issues, and the subsequent elite cues provided by the Republican voting record, drove down climate change concern. The media coverage of An Inconvenient Truth faded, and the influence of this factor declined. Additionally, unemployment increased, and GDP declined, following the 2008 financial collapse. These economic trends also contributed to a decline in the CCTI.
There was one final increase in the CCTI during the second quarter of 2009, when a number of Democratic congressional statements were released, urging action to address climate change. These statements coincided with the House debate and vote on H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (commonly referred to as the Waxman –Markey Bill) in June of 2009. Subsequently, the CCTI declined to the level of the 2002 to 2005 period, and remained at this level through 2010.