Poll: Partisan gap persists, but everybody loves renewables

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Expansion of wind and solar power are among the few energy issues where Republicans and Democrats find common ground, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The Pew report, the group’s first trend analysis on American attitudes on energy and the environment in two years, surveys a broad range of issues — from water quality to nuclear power — and finds deep partisan divides on climate change, use of regulations and fossil fuels.

Overall, the survey found more than 60 percent of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to protect water, improve air quality and reduce the effects of climate change.

But deeper observation shows partisan splits across a range of issues. It also shows a split between young and old in the GOP.

Republican millennials are less inclined than elder members of the GOP to support increased use of fossil fuels, for example. There’s about a 30 percentage point gap between younger and older GOP in supporting offshore drilling.

About three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say it is possible to reduce regulations and still protect air and water quality, while 64 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say that’s not the case.

Three-quarters of Democrats and those who lean Democratic believe the Earth is warming primarily due to human causes, compared with 26 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican.

“Similarly, Democrats are much more likely than are Republicans to express concern about the issue of climate change and to see at least some effects of global warming in their local community or in their own lives,” the report states.

Cary Funk, director of science and society at Pew and lead author, said while majorities of Americans think the government is doing enough to address the environment and climate change, “about half of conservative Republicans see the government as doing about the right amount.”

Partisan splits have been documented on energy issues for years, but it was uncertain how much the Trump administration might have shifted opinions. During the first year of the administration, EPA rolled back more than 30 regulations, the report notes.

The agreement on renewables is due in part to the growth of wind and solar in many Republican-leaning states, according to analysts.

“We have seen some evidence that some Republicans support an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy production as seen when we asked about support for specific sources of energy like wind, solar and various fossil fuels,” said Brian Kennedy, a research associate and co-author of the report.

Eighty percent of conservative Republicans and 96 percent of liberal Democrats “strongly favor” the expansion of solar farms. Similar majorities back expansion of wind.

However, the partisan split on the role of government sticks on the renewable issue, too — 72 percent of Democrats say government regulations are needed to promote renewables, while 65 percent of Republicans say the private sector can accomplish that goal.

Republicans and Democrats also largely agree that creating jobs within the energy sector should be a top priority. Fifty-six percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans agree with that view.

Additionally, Pew included questions for the first time about solar geoengineering, which envisions spreading particles in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and cool the planet. More than half of U.S. adults, or 52 percent, said the idea would not make a difference in reducing the effects of climate change. Forty-five percent said the technique would bring net harm to the environment.

Other findings:

  • Fifty-nine percent of Americans say climate change is having some effect on their communities. Forty-five percent of those point to weather changes, such as increased frequency of severe floods, droughts and wildfires.
  • Half of Americans say the Earth is getting warmer mainly due to human activity. Yet three-quarters of Democrats point to human activity as the main cause, compared with 25 percent of Republicans.
  • Ninety percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans say restrictions on power plant emissions would make a difference in reducing climate change.
  • Seventy-two percent of those surveyed say the top priority for U.S. energy policy should be protecting the environment from energy development. Seventy-one percent say it should be increasing reliance on renewable energy.
  • Eighty percent of Republicans say reducing independence on foreign energy should be a top policy priority.
  • Thirty-nine percent of Americans support expanded hydraulic fracturing, 39 percent back offshore oil and gas drilling, and 44 percent support more nuclear power plants. Far more Republicans than Democrats support expansion of those fuel sources.

The poll was conducted among 2,541 adults from March 27 to April 9, and has an error margin of 2.7 percentage points.