Our recent Climate Insights 2020 survey—a collaboration by researchers at Stanford University, Resources for the Future, and survey research company ReconMR—has yielded real-world insights about American public opinion on climate change and the policies that could help with its mitigation. The effort stems from a longstanding polling partnership that’s been featured in publications such as the New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, Time magazine, ABC News, and elsewhere.
Our latest Climate Insights reports have offered valuable insights in a pivotal year marked by a historic presidential election and a public health crisis triggered by the novel coronavirus. In the previous issue of Resources, we took a close look at the overall trends from the Climate Insights 2020 survey. These summaries of our additional reports provide even more details about American opinions on climate change and clean energy.
Contrary to the media-driven message of climate action as an issue that’s hopelessly polarized across party lines, some climate change mitigation policies could be pursued with widespread public support. Our survey demonstrates that a majority of Americans support the principles underlying major climate policies. In addition, the Climate Insights survey suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic upheaval have not exacerbated perceptions of the unintended economic side effects of climate mitigation efforts. Nor have those events reduced public support for mitigation policies, as shown by the steady levels of support, comparable to previous years.
- An overwhelming majority of Americans favor government efforts to shift electricity
- generation toward renewable sources through tax breaks (83%) and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants (81%).
- More than three-quarters of Americans favor government policies that lead to the construction of more energy-efficient buildings (75%), cars (71%), and appliances (71%)—whether by requirement or through tax breaks.
- Increased consumer taxes on electricity and gasoline to incentivize people to use less are the least popular policy options that we asked about (favored by 28% and 43%, respectively).
- Two-thirds of Americans (66%) believe that coronavirus-related federal stimulus packages should include efforts to create new jobs and technologies to combat global warming.
- Majorities of Americans favor policies implemented by the Obama administration but rolled back by the Trump administration. In particular, more than three-quarters of Americans support the policies that comprise the Paris Agreement (81%) and the Clean Power Plan (77%).
- A majority of Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate that makes “green” statements (64%) and less likely to vote for a candidate that makes “anti-green” statements (67%).
Climate change is much less politically polarized than people think. Our survey reveals the climate-related issues on which political groups agree and disagree. Though opinions differ along party lines on some issues, bipartisan support is evident for a number of issues related to clean energy investment and climate change mitigation strategies. Majorities of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats agree on the existence, causes, and threat of climate change; they also agree about various government policies that could be used to mitigate future warming.
- 94% of Democrats believe global warming has been happening, as do 78% of Independents and 67% of Republicans.
- Majorities of Republicans (56%), Independents (77%), and Democrats (86%) report having personally seen the effects of global warming.
- Majorities of Republicans (53%), Independents (71%), and Democrats (96%) favor pursuing the goals of the Paris Agreement.
- Majorities of all three groups think that the US government should act to address global warming: 63% of Republicans, 79% of Independents, and 98% of Democrats.
- 43% of Democrats attach extreme personal importance to global warming, compared to 22% of Independents and 4% of Republicans.
Most elected government officials represent only a portion of the nation. Our national survey results can be complemented in more granular detail by evidence describing state-level opinions. This state-level analysis provides the opportunity to see how opinions vary across the United States and allows us to test hypotheses about where pockets of skepticism might be most likely. Although we do see differences among the 44 states that we could analyze in this way, not a single state in the country emerges as majority skeptical about the existence or threat of global warming.
- The majority of residents of all analyzed states hold “green” opinions—for example, more than 70% of residents in all states believe that global warming has been occurring.
- At least 60% of Americans in all analyzed states believe that global warming will be a serious problem for the United States and the world.
- The size of the “issue public”—the people who consider global warming extremely personally important and vote, donate, and act on the issue—varies from state to state. For example, in Rhode Island, 33% of people care deeply about global warming, whereas in South Dakota, 9% do.
- People in states that conferred more votes to former President Trump in the 2016 election demonstrated a lower level of belief in the fundamentals of global warming and reduced support for policies to mitigate it.
- The larger the majority in a state expressing “green” opinions on global warming, the more likely its US congressional representatives are to vote for “green” policies. And the more a state’s population is passionate about the issue, the more likely its representatives are to vote for those policies—an indication that representatives pay attention to their constituents on these matters.
Transportation is the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for almost 30 percent of total emissions. In the national and global effort to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change, electric vehicles (EVs) provide an attractive option. But despite dropping prices and rising popularity, EVs continue to make up a small percentage of the automotive industry's market share. Are Americans resistant to purchasing these vehicles? What are some of the biggest barriers—or perceived barriers—to widespread adoption? Our Climate Insights survey reveals American perceptions of EVs and which of these perceptions may lead to purchasing reluctance.
- 57% of future car buyers are willing to consider buying an EV.
- The most important examined determinant of willingness to purchase an EV is the belief that global warming will be a serious problem for the United States in the future.
- The perceptions that batteries may catch on fire, that maintenance costs for EVs are higher, and that EVs have weaker acceleration than gas-powered vehicles are sources of hesitation among potential buyers.
- Perceived difficulty of replacing batteries and lack of mechanics qualified to repair EVs as compared to gas-powered vehicles are additional predictors of purchasing reluctance.
- 65% of respondents have not driven nor know anyone who has driven an EV.
Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis authored all the Climate Insights 2020 reports; Jared McDonald contributed to the “Opinion in the States” report.