According to Krosnick, the survey's biggest surprise is that such huge majorities of the US public agreed with natural scientists, while those scientists themselves feel most of the public is ignoring them.

The majority of survey participants were only moderately or slightly certain in their views, however.

"This lack of certainty is due partly to the news media's commitment to writing balanced stories about the natural science, giving the misleading impression that the scientific community is divided about the issue rather than unified," Krosnick told environmentalresearchweb. "The lack of certainty and the absence of clear solutions to the problem are inhibiting people from ranking climate change as one of the nation's most serious problems."

Krosnick believes that if certainty were to increase and effective solutions came into play, Americans would be more likely to raise the importance of climate change up the national agenda.

Over the last ten years, Americans' beliefs about climate change have been moving in the direction of those of natural science experts on the issue. "Americans have become increasingly personally concerned about the problem, while at the same time becoming more knowledgeable about it," said Krosnick.

The survey also found that the proportion of US citizens attaching a great deal of personal importance to the issue of climate change has increased from 8% in 1997 to 17% today.

"These individuals almost unanimously believe that global warming is real and a problem meriting substantial amelioration efforts," said Krosnick. "These are the activists who put pressure on government to act, and these are the people who use the issue to make voting decisions in elections."

Krosnick says the findings mean that legislators can take action to ameliorate climate change knowing that huge fractions of the American public will support them.

"The potential electoral benefits for a politician of taking action are substantial and growing," he added. "Politicians who embrace climate change as a problem and take aggressive steps to address it will benefit by receiving more votes in their next bid for reelection."

The team will conduct three new surveys on climate change in the spring. In April, the researchers will update a joint ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford poll on global warming released in March 2006. Together with Washington-based thinktank Resources for the Future, the team will conduct a survey for New Scientist magazine. The survey, due out on 12 May, will assess how educating people about the cost of addressing global warming affects their support for specific solutions.

"People may support ameliorative efforts until they learn that these solutions are costly, at which point their support could evaporate," said Krosnick.

Finally, the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University will release a survey this summer on the effects of global warming that the public is most worried about. According to Krosnick, the survey will gauge how media coverage that reflects the views of both scientific sceptics and believers influences public opinion compared to reports that only include statements by experts convinced global warming is a serious problem.

Krosnick also reported his results in the journal Climatic Change.