Survey: Americans want more action on climate change

By Joan Conrow

July 17, 2018

Though Americans strongly support efforts to mitigate climate change, most don’t think global warming poses a serious threat to their own lives, according to a new national survey.

Eight in 10 Americans say the federal government should try to achieve the same deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions called for in the international treaty rejected by President Trump, according to a random sample survey conducted by Langer Research Associates for ABC News, Stanford University’s Political Psychology Research Group and Resources for the Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.

And 61 percent of those polled also say the federal government should be doing “a great deal” or “a lot” about global warming — an increase of eight percent since 2015.

But three-quarters of those surveyed expressed concern that efforts to address climate change will increase consumer prices and just two in 10 are very confident that such efforts would in fact reduce global warming. Only 53 percent favor immediate action over more study, with many of those who back some policies saying they should be voluntary, not mandated.

Some 79 percent foresee a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done to prevent global warming and 76 percent see a serious threat to future generations. But just 51 percent see a “very” serious problem to the country, and only 39 percent think the effects of global warming pose a serious threat to their own way of life in their lifetime.

However, global warming does seem to be an issue that resonates with younger people. Some 81 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds say global temperatures have risen in the past century, versus 68 percent of those 50 and older. And 70 percent of the younger people also support substantial government action, compared to 54 percent of those 50-plus. Young people also are much more confident in the success of such action —71 vs. 48 percent — and more apt to see serious risks to the US if it’s not taken — 61 vs. 44 percent.

“Recognition of global warming and concern about its long-term impacts are broad, if highly partisan,” according to the survey analysis. “Solutions are widely desired, especially when problems or remedies are clearly identified. But a somewhat skeptical public, concerned about costs, resistant to mandates and uncertain that proposed solutions will work, harbors continued doubts about how best to pursue them.”

Though criticism of the oil industry is widespread and cuts across political ideology — 79 percent believe major oil companies engaged in a cover-up of their products’ role in global warming — taxes that raise electricity or gas prices to try to decrease consumer consumption are not popular, even among liberals. Instead, they favor more restrictions on businesses, including taxing companies based on their release of greenhouse gases.

“Even as 78 percent of Americans say the federal government should limit greenhouse gas emissions, nearly as many, 74 percent, say they’re very or somewhat concerned that such regulation could substantially raise the prices they pay for things,” the analysis stated. “Thirty-five percent are very concerned about it. At the same time, more think government action on global warming will help the economy than think it will hurt it, 46 vs. 30 percent, with the rest expecting no economic impact.”

In the political realm, 57 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of global warming overall and 62 percent oppose his planned withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Just 19 percent strongly approve of his handling of global warming, while 44 percent strongly disapprove. On the climate treaty, he has 23 percent strong support for his position, vs. 48 percent strongly opposed.

In another rebuke of Trump’s policies, 70 percent of Americans say it’s better for the government to encourage job creation by developing the renewable energy industry rather than protecting the traditional energy industry. Some 82 percent favor tax breaks for companies that produce renewable energy — a point where even those on opposite ends of the political spectrum agree — and 43 percent support tax breaks for new nuclear power plants

“Chiefly, though, wide partisan and ideological differences mark many public attitudes on global warming, as is typical,” according to the survey’s summary. “In one important example, high levels of trust in what scientists say about the environment – a key predictor of other global warming attitudes – ranges from 58 percent among Democrats to just 32 percent of Independents and 22 percent of Republicans. At the most extreme, 74 percent of strongly liberal Americans express this level of trust in environmental scientists, while a mere 6 percent of strong conservatives agree.”

The survey analysis also noted that “It’s unclear how much weight the issue of global warming may carry in the November elections. Fourteen percent of registered voters both support robust government action and call the issue extremely important in their choice of candidates – enough to matter, especially in a close contest. That said, just 8 percent in this group are Republicans; 65 percent are Democrats (and 57 percent are liberals), and the remaining independents lean Democratic by a wide margin. As such, the GOP’s exposure among its customary supporters looks quite limited.”

The survey was conducted by landline and cellular telephone May 7 to June 11, 2018, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-23-35 percent, Democrats-Republicans-Independents.