TUESDAY, Jan. 29, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that people who are already ambivalent about climate change often switch their opinions based on which way the wind blows -- literally.
While Republicans and Democrats tended to stick to their guns on whether or not climate change is real, Independent voters quickly changed their mind on the issue as short-term weather patterns blew through, the U.S. researchers found.
"Independent voters were less likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably cool days and more likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably warm days," Lawrence Hamilton, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, said in a university news release.
"The shift was dramatic," he added. "On the coolest days, belief in human-caused climate change dropped below 40 percent among independents. On the hottest days, it increased above 70 percent."
Along with Mary Stampone, an assistant professor of geography at the university and the New Hampshire state climatologist, Hamilton analyzed data from about 5,000 people in New Hampshire who took part in surveys conducted between 2010 and 2012 by the Granite State Poll.
The poll participants were asked whether they believed that climate change was occurring now and was caused mainly by human activities, or whether they believed that climate change is not happening, or is happening but mainly due to natural causes.
The researchers compared the participants' responses with data about weather conditions around the time they were interviewed.
Unseasonably warm or cool temperatures on the interview day and the day before seemed to boost the overall likelihood of respondents saying they believed that humans were causing climate change, the team found.
When the researchers analyzed the responses by political affiliation, they found that temperature had the greatest effect on Independent voters' views about climate change, compared to Democrats or Republicans.
"We find that over 10 surveys, Republicans and Democrats remain far apart and firm in their beliefs about climate change. Independents fall in between these extremes, but their beliefs appear weakly held. ... Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to," the researchers wrote.
The study was published online Jan. 23 in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the health effects of climate change.