Survey Finds Majority of Voters Support Initiatives to Fight Climate Change

Source: By John Schwartz, New York Times • Posted: Monday, January 18, 2021

A survey carried out after the November election found that 66 percent of respondents said that developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority.

From left, an electric car charging station at a Walgreens in Sacramento; porcupine caribou crossing the Niguanak River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska; and a wind turbine near Shenandoah, Pa.
Credit…From left, Max Whittaker for The New York Times; Kenneth Whitten/Alaska Stock/Design Pics Inc., via Alamy; Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

The survey, which was conducted after the presidential election, suggests that a majority of Americans in both parties want a government that deals forcefully with climate change instead of denying its urgency — or denying that it exists.

In the survey, published Friday by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, 53 percent of registered voters said that global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress, and 66 percent said that developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority.

Eight in 10 supported achieving those ends by providing tax breaks to people who buy electric vehicles or solar panels, and by investing in renewable energy research.

“These results show there’s very strong public support for bold, ambitious action on climate change and clean energy,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, who heads the Yale program. That suggests an opening for bipartisan legislation backed by lawmakers’ constituents.

During the campaign, Mr. Biden spoke often about how his proposals would generate jobs, and the survey indicates broad support for that idea, and not just in the jobs that would come with creating renewable energy.

Of those polled, 83 percent said they supported creating a jobs program that would hire unemployed coal workers, shut down old coal mines safely, and restore the natural landscape. The same percentage said they supported a jobs program that would shut down the thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells around the nation, which pollute water and leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Some of the policies that appear in the survey echo Mr. Biden’s campaign points closely, including support among 78 percent of those surveyed for setting stronger vehicle fuel efficiency standards and 67 percent support for installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the United States by 2030.

The nation is still divided politically, of course, with higher levels of support for some of the initiatives among Democrats than Republicans. The percentage of liberal Democrats who said that global warming should be a high or very high priority stood at 86 percent; among conservative Republicans, the figure was just 12 percent, and among all Republicans, that figure was closer to 23 percent.

While 93 percent of liberal Democrats said they thought developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress, just 32 percent of conservative Republicans did; among all Republicans, however, the figure was 43 percent — and 58 percent among liberal and moderate Republicans.

Climate Fwd: What on earth is going on? Get the latest news about climate change, plus tips on how you can help.

An incentive program promoting renewable energy might gain support from conservatives seeking energy independence or economic development, Dr. Leiserowitz, said, even if they may not be as deeply concerned about addressing climate change. “There are many roads to Damascus,” he said.

The Green New Deal, a package of progressive proposals for fighting climate change that has been heavily attacked by conservatives, got the support of 66 percent of those polled, a lower figure than many of the specific proposals discussed in the survey. Mr. Biden has declined to support the Green New Deal specifically, though his campaign called it a “crucial framework” for climate action.

Some of the signature initiatives of the Trump administration proved to be deeply unpopular with the public, especially the effort to promote drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska: Only 28 percent of voters favored it. Just 40 percent supported drilling for and mining fossil fuels on public lands, and 47 percent supported expanding U.S. offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

As for the Paris climate agreement, which Mr. Trump abandoned with great fanfare, 75 percent of American voters said they wanted the nation back in. And while Mr. Trump heralded his aggressive efforts to relax energy efficiency standards for home appliances like dishwashers and light bulbs, 83 percent of the voters in the survey said they supported more energy-efficient appliances.

The fact that interest in climate issues is so strong, considering the proliferation of crises that include the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic woes, and the months of unrest over racism, is impressive, Dr. Leiserowitz said. In part it might be attributed to increased media coverage and events like the very active wildfire and hurricane seasons last year.

“For most people, until recently, climate change has been an abstract issue,” he said.

The survey of 1,036 registered voters was conducted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 16 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

Dr. Leiserowitz said that the support for government action to get the nation moving toward a clean-energy future, even among conservative Republicans, showed a shift in American political thinking.

“We are in a fundamentally different political climate today than when we lived in the 1980s and ’90s,” he said.

This survey suggests that Americans accept the idea that “the free market alone is not going to solve people’s problems,” he said. “It takes a strong government to fix these problems.”