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Climate Change Poll: Americans Think Government Can Affect The Climate

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Sen. Marco Rubio (seen here at a Jan. 28, 2013, Capitol Hill news conference) argued during his State of the Union response that the U.S. shouldn't act on climate change because "the government can't change the weather." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) | AP

A week after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded to President Barack Obama's climate change push by arguing that "the government can't change the weather," a new poll shows that most Americans think the U.S. government can make some difference in combating climate change. But polls also show that people consider climate change to be a relatively low priority, underscoring the political difficulty of taking action on the issue.

According to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans are divided over whether climate change is caused primarily by human actions or by natural patterns in the Earth's environment, with 41 percent choosing each option. Still, most agree that the U.S. government can have at least some effect in reducing the impact of climate change, though they're divided on whether the government can make a major or minor difference. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said that U.S. policies can make a major difference, 30 percent said they can make a minor difference, and 28 percent said they can make no difference at all.

But fewer think the U.S. government can make any difference if other countries don't also adjust their policies. Without changes in other countries' policies, only 17 percent said U.S. policies can make a major difference, 31 percent said a minor difference, and 40 percent said no difference. The argument that the U.S. can do little if other countries, such as China and India, don't act as well was a major aspect of Rubio's argument against U.S. action.

Not surprisingly, opinion on both the human role in climate change and the efficacy of government policy was divided sharply along party lines. A majority of Democrats said that human activity is the primary cause of climate change and that the U.S. government can make a difference (even if others don't act). Most Republicans said that natural patterns in the Earth's environment cause climate change and that the government can't make a difference.

A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Thursday found that climate change was the lowest-ranked priority on the president's agenda (of the four key issues suggested) and was the priority respondents were most likely to say should be put off for a few years rather than dealt with immediately. Deficit reduction, immigration and gun legislation all outranked climate change as a priority.

Still, a plurality of respondents to the Pew poll said they trusted Obama more than congressional Republicans to handle the issue, by a 47 percent to 26 percent margin.

The results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey also suggest that Americans think climate change is a serious issue, even if action may be difficult.

Fifty-four percent said that climate change is a cause of more frequent or severe natural disasters, while 22 percent said it has no impact on extreme weather. Respondents who said human activity was the primary cause of climate change were nearly unanimous in saying that climate change contributed to more frequent or severe natural disasters, and even 34 percent of those who thought climate change was primarily caused by natural environmental patterns agreed about more or worse natural disasters.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted Feb. 13-18 using live telephone interviews among 1,504 U.S. adults.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 15-16 among 1,000 U.S. adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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