Community needs assessment: Sea Grant climate change survey

End Date: 11/30/11

Executive Summary

This project was designed to provide insight into how Gulf Coast residents view issues related to climate change, including perceptions of changes in their local climate, individual adaptation, and local government response. Situated in communities grappling with often severe weather events (e.g., hurricanes, droughts, and flooding) as well as long-term issues like coastal wetlands loss and erosion, these residents provide an ideal vantage point for understanding how individuals relate to environmental conditions and how they respond through local communities and individual action. 

With this in mind, the 2012 Gulf Coast Climate Change Survey was designed to capture the perceptions of coastal residents on climate change throughout the Gulf Coast and more narrowly within specific states and regions. The final results are based on a telephone survey of 3,856 randomly selected coastal residents.  Overall, this is the largest and most comprehensive assessment of individual perceptions of climate change in the Gulf Coast ever undertaken and provides the best available assessment of how coastal residents are addressing climate change in their local communities.

The results of the survey reveal that coastal residents are noticing at least some changes in their local climate, that they express some concern about the consequences of climate change to their communities and families, and that they are widely supportive of local government adaptations. In this respect, 

  • 58 percent of respondents said their local climate was very different or somewhat different than in the past; 
  • 61 percent expressed at least some concern about changes to the local climate;
  • 76 percent support local government action to address the effects of climate change.   

If local residents are concerned about climate change, it would be a mistake to characterize their opinions as overly alarmed. First, substantial percentages of them describe their local climate as “pretty much the same.”  Second, while residents are clearly concerned about climate change, only a third of respondents describe themselves as extremely or very concerned and/or have taken individual steps to adapt to climate change. Even so, they support a wide range of specific government actions to address climate change, including support for:

  • Maintaining adequate freshwater supplies (94 percent)
  • Conservation of natural habitats (93 percent)
  • Protecting freshwater and waste water from saltwater intrusion (90 percent)
  • Insurance discounts for fortified homes (90 percent)
  • Restoration of natural habitats (87 percent)
  • Increasing funding for emergency planning (86 percent)
  • Modifying existing developments to resist flooding (84 percent)
  • Building seawalls to protect coastal communities (82 percent)
  • Mandatory hazard statements (78 percent)
  • Increasing funding for sea monitoring (73 percent)
  • Increasing heights buildings must be elevated (73 percent)
  • Limiting the types of structures that can be built in high-risk areas (71 percent)

Of the 14 items we asked about, only one failed to garner majority support among coastal residents (increasing insurance rates in high-risk areas), and only one additional measure (incentives to relocate from high-risk areas) failed to get more than 70-percent support.  Moreover, more than half of respondents report having taken steps to protect their homes against environmental hazards.

Noticing changes in one’s local climate is an important predictor of support for local government adaptation, but, as these results reveal, there is strong support for local government action beyond individual concerns about local climate. Coastal residents may or may not notice an increase in the number or strength of hurricanes, but they do support government action to protect their local communities from the effects.  

The survey also reveals a public that is not fully informed about climate change. Thirty-four percent of coastal residents describe themselves as very well-informed about climate change, 36 percent report following news about climate change very closely, and 55 percent say they need “a lot” (22 percent) or “some” (33 percent) additional information to form a strong opinion.  Because information is an important ingredient in driving support for local government action, it provides a potential pathway for mobilizing public support.  While informing the public can occur through a variety of different channels, the results in this survey reveal that the most effective tool may be online news sources. Online sources are the place respondents said they were most likely to go to learn about climate change, though notably most respondents would use sites run by traditional news organizations or general search engines like Yahoo or Google. Overall, there is little question that online resources will be increasingly important in terms of how individual learn about climate change - and what they learn there will drive support for local government adaptation.  


To conduct a public survey of coastal parishes and counties throughout the Gulf Coast to ascertain perceptions of climate change and willingness to engage in risk mitigation.  The survey will provide a baseline understanding of climate change related attitudes, willingness to engage in mitigation behaviors and perceptions of risk related to climate change within coastal parishes and counties.  The results will be used to help develop a communication plan to communicate climate change science in these coastal parishes and counties.


The public opinion survey will be based on approximately 3,600 completed telephone interviews, including 800 completed interviews in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana (400 per region within each state), and 600 completed interviews in Alabama and Mississippi.  All respondents will be randomly selected and interviews will be conducted by the trained staff at Louisiana State University’s Public Policy Research Lab (PPRL). The PPRL, a state of the art survey research center, routinely conducts telephone, mail, and online surveys for university faculty, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies, including the Louisiana Health Insurance Survey (based on 10,000 households) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey (the longest running health survey).  Telephone surveys use Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) software to minimize interviewer error and to provide quality control over the interview process.  The PPRL’s call center, housed in the Manship Research Facility on LSU’s main campus, has 36 CATI stations and employs over 70 trained interviewers.

This will result in a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points in Alabama and Mississippi, +/- 3.5 percentage points in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, and +/- 4.9 percentage points for the Louisiana, Florida, and Texas regional subsamples. 

The survey will be designed to provide representative samples in the coastal parishes of each Gulf Coast state (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) and regional representation within Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama.  Respondents will be selected randomly from coastal parishes and counties using random digital dialing.  Survey respondents will be selected from the following parishes and counties:

Florida: Monroe, Sarasota, Pasco, Collier, Manatee, Hernando, Lee, Hillsborough, Citrus, Charlotte, Pinellas, Levy, Dixie, Taylor, Wakulla, Franklin, Gulf, Bay, Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia.

Alabama: Baldwin and Mobile.

Mississippi: Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson.

Louisiana: Cameron, Vermilion, Iberia, St. Mary, LaFourche, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Orleans, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Plaquemines.

Texas: Jefferson, Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Brazonia, Matagorda, Jackson, Calhoun, Aransas, Refugio, San Patricio, Nueces, Kleberg, Kennedy, Willacy, and Cameron.


The survey will provide an understanding of attitudes and behaviors among residents in coastal parishes and counties throughout the Gulf Coast region.  By surveying large samples throughout the region, we will be able to ascertain differences in perception due to local economic and social context.  The results will allow outreach efforts to be targeted more effectively and efficiently.