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Increased Consumer Confidence Signals Good News for Climate Change Perceptions

As I wrote last week — with unemployment dropping below 9% for the first time since the start of 2009 — public belief and concern over climate change may be headed for an upward swing. The performance of the economy is likely the central consideration that should inform climate change communication and public engagement.

As I noted, however, the November job numbers are uncertain and complex, yet there are other signals of economic recovery that are encouraging, signals that the public may be shifting towards greater optimism about the economy.  

At MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning (video below), former Obama car czar Steve Ratner discussed several other economic trends that might tell us more about the overall economic story.  As Ratner discussed, the jobs report showed the addition of 120,000 jobs added last month, but a healthy economy would be adding 300,000 jobs a month.  

Yet as Ratner reviewed, new claims for unemployment insurance were below 400,000 for November, a level that economists often point to as a sign that the labor market is improving. Other hopeful trends include the continued rise in an index of 12 leading economic indicators.  

Perhaps most importantly in relation to climate change perceptions, consumer confidence has spiked since its dramatic drop over the summer in reaction to the debt limit debate.  The index increased to 56 from a revised 40.9 reading in October, the biggest monthly gain since April 2003.  This increased confidence is also reflected in likely stronger Holiday sales over recent years.  As Ratner also points out, automobile sales are additionally up, another major sign of increased consumer confidence that likely connects back to climate change perceptions..

All of these signals point to an improving perceptual environment surrounding the economy. It’s not bright and optimistic, but likely better than at any time over the past two years.  This optimism will hinge strongly on events in Europe this week and moving ahead, but if these trends continue, we should expect a slow and gradual corresponding rise in public belief and concern over climate change, a trend that will be important to analyze by comparing findings across multiple survey firms and questions.

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