By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Jan 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The share of Americans "alarmed" over climate change has hit a new high, research showed on Thursday, spurred in part by growing media coverage and by Democratic presidential contenders paying attention to the issue.
A majority of Americans now say they are "concerned" or "alarmed" about climate change, with those "alarmed" increasing almost threefold in the last five years, according to research by Yale University.
Fueling that concern has been the prominence of the issue among Democratic candidates seeking their party's nomination to try to unseat Republican President Donald Trump in November, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
For Democrats, "this is one of the top voting priorities among their base, and that has never been true in American political history before," Leiserowitz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Each of the Democratic candidates - now numbering a dozen - has called for concerted action to address global warming and for the United States to remain in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
The Trump administration is in the process of pulling the United States - one of the world's biggest emitters of planet-warming greenhouse gases - out of the agreement adopted by nearly 200 nations with the aim of limiting global warming.
Climate change is likely to drop from political headlines once the Democratic nominee is chosen later this year and faces off with Trump, however, because it will be just one of many ways in which the candidates differ, Leiserowitz predicted.
Yale's research on attitudes about climate change sorts respondents into six categories - from "alarmed" to "dismissive", a grouping for those who do not think global warming is taking places or that it is caused by human action.
The latest results, from November 2019, found the "alarmed" segment at a high of 31%. The "dismissive" and "doubtful" categories stood at 10% each.
The data has been collected from an average of about 1,250 online respondents twice a year since October 2014 by Yale and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
Growing concerns about climate change also were fueled by a report on dire global warming risks facing oceans and ice issued by the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year, Leiserowitz said.
Growing media attention as more news organizations cover the topic has played a role as well in changing attitudes, he said.
In addition, more Americans are starting to directly experience climate change impacts - from wildfires to floods or other extreme weather - or have seen them on television, he said.
For a growing number of Americans, "this isn't far away in time and space anymore. This is here and now and it's real." (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Laurie Goering