The likelihood of an average American agreeing that world temperatures are rising is strongly affected by the name used for the phenomenon. Americans believe strongly in "climate change", but acceptance that "global warming" is taking place is much less common.
In a recent study carried out by psychologists in Michigan, 2,267 US adults were asked the following question, half of them hearing "climate change" and half "global warming":
You may have heard about the idea that the world's temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called 'global warming'/'climate change'. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?
Some 74 per cent of those who heard "climate change" agreed that temperatures have indeed risen over the past century: only 68 per cent agreed if they heard "global warming".
"Wording matters," says Jonathon Schuldt, lead author on the study. "Given these different associations and the partisan nature of this issue, climate change believers and skeptics might be expected to vary in their use of these terms."
Schuldt and his colleagues also examined the connection between the two labels and US politics as part of their study. They report that the difference in belief between "climate change" and "global warming" is massive among Republicans, with just 44 per cent of those who identify themselves as such believing in global warming: but 60 per cent say that climate change is real.
By contrast, Democrats don't care what it's called, they believe in it - 86.9 per cent of them believe in "global warming" and 86.4 per cent in "climate change".
"It could be that Democrats' beliefs about global climate change might be more crystallized, and as a result, more protected from subtle manipulations," comments Schuldt's colleague Sara Konrath.
The psychologists say that liberal think-tanks much prefer the term "climate change" - calculated as it is to subtly manipulate their opponents into agreeing with them. Conservative organisations prefer the term "global warming".
The study is published in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly, and can be read for free in pdf here. ®