Friday, July 19, 2013

New Poll Finds Wide Bipartisan Support for Climate Action, But Legislators Aren't Listening.

The Natural Resources Defense Council just came out with a poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, that tested public responses to the President's climate plan.  The poll showed wide bipartisan support for key climate change action proposals included in Obama's speech from several weeks ago.

Perception That Climate Change is a Serious Problem
The first question in the poll was the following: “How much of a problem do you consider the issue of climate change and global warming to be?”

66% of respondents saw climate change as a serious problem. 31% saw it as not a problem.  These numbers remained largely unchanged since December 2012 (65-32). However, the share that sees climate change as a “very serious” problem has grown from 31% to 39%, now outnumbering the share that sees it as only “somewhat serious” of a problem.

86% of Democrats viewed climate change as a serious problem as opposed to 13% who saw it as not a problem. 62% of Independents saw it as a serious problem versus 35% who did not. Republicans were more evenly split than one might think: 46% said climate change was a serious problem as opposed to 50% who did not see it as a problem.

Support for Obama’s Climate Plan
The survey then asked respondents whether or not they supported the President’s climate plan.  Prior to the questions, surveyors read the following explanation:
“The plan that President Obama announced aims to protect public health and address climate change by cutting the amount of carbon pollution produced by the United States. The plan directs the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to establish carbon pollution standards for power plants to limit the amount of carbon pollution these plants can emit. The plan also would increase fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles as well as set energy efficiency standards for new household appliances and new buildings. Further, the plan would increase investment in renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power.”
In other words, the framing of the President’s climate plan here stressed (1) EPA standards on power plants, (2) increased fuel efficiency standards, (3) energy efficiency standards for new appliances and buildings, and (4) increased investment in renewable energy.  The description left out some of the parts of Obama’s plan that are less attractive to liberals and environmentalists, e.g. fracking and “clean coal.” However, leaving those out allows us to see the support for the good parts of the plan. Respondents supported the President’s climate plan—as described—by over two to one: 61% to 27%. 39% strongly supported the plan, and 19% strongly opposed it.  These numbers align quite well with the percentages believing that climate change is a problem/not a problem and the percentages holding such beliefs strongly.

The plan—as described—garnered majority support among all demographic groups (geographic, gender, age, party) except for Republicans.

Geographically, the largest support was in the Northeast: 68% to 24%. The lowest support was in the South: 52% to 36%.

Women (64% to 20%) supported the plan more strongly than did men (57% to 36%).

The youngest age bracket (18 to 34) showed the highest support: 68% to 21%.  The oldest bracket (65 and older) showed the lowest support: 50% to 34%.

86% of Democrats supported the plan, and only 9% of Democrats opposed it. Independents gave the plan majority support as well: 58% to 35%. A majority of Republicans opposed it: 32% to 51%.

Republican opposition, however, went away when the survey tested the individual components of the plan—as we will soon see.

Individual Components of the Plan

Each component of the plan achieved a majority of support among the general public surveyed.  A majority of respondents strongly supported four out of the six.

79% supported increasing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. 55% strongly supported such a policy.

78% supported increasing investment in renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro). 56% strongly supported such a policy.

78% supported increasing energy efficiency standards for new appliances and buildings. 51% strongly supported such a policy.

76% supported taking lead in urging large countries (China/India) to expand efforts. 54% strongly supported such a policy.

75% supported strengthening communities against effects of climate change (flood, drought, fire). 47% strongly supported such a policy.

65% supported having EPA set standards on the carbon pollution that electric plants can release. 40% strongly supported such a policy.

Each component that gained over 70+% of general support also gained 70+% of support from Independents.  Independent support for EPA standards on electric plants, however, was only 56%---a weaker but still clear majority.

A majority of Republicans supported five out of the 6 policies, with support seeing roughly a 10% drop compared to the general public on each measure.  The largest drop, though, appeared in the response to taking the lead in urging other big countries to take action. Only 61% of Republicans supported such an action—a 15% drop from the overall response.

Only 49% of Republicans surveyed supported EPA standards on power plants.  While not a majority, this was still a plurality because only 45% opposed such standards.

As we regularly see in health care polling, Republicans like many of the individual components of the President's proposals but oppose them largely for tribal or ad hominem reasons.

The survey also read respondents two passages--one citing the claims of supporters and one citing the claims of the opponents--in order to test the effect of such arguments.
“SUPPORTERS of this plan say that cutting carbon pollution is essential to keeping our air and water clean, protecting our kids' health, and reducing the devastating effects of climate change. President Obama's plan represents a reasonable and comprehensive approach that will help our economy to continue to grow and recover while sparking innovation in energy technology and cutting our dependence on foreign oil.

OPPONENTS of this plan say it will seriously harm our economy just as it is starting to improve. This plan will mean higher energy costs, making it more expensive for companies to do business and leading to thousands of job losses and higher prices for consumers. All this without having any real impact on climate change, because big polluters such as India and China do not limit
pollution from their power companies.”
[Quick aside: I always find it interesting how politicians always speak about “foreign oil,” preferring the ability to evade directly criticizing domestic production as well.] 
Reading such passages caused only a minor dip in support (61% to 59%) and rise in opposition (27% to 32%).  The strong support and strong opposition remained nearly unchanged.


As I noted earlier, we have often seen in polls that Republicans support many of the centrist and even progressive policies included in the President's proposals but oppose them when they get attached to the President.  Unfortunately, politics are very tribal.

The NRDC poll ignores the less environmentally or logically sound parts of Obama's plan, such as fracking and "clean coal." Support for fracking tends to split on partisan lines. Increasing domestic oil production, unfortunately, tends to poll well.  The President's "all-of-the-above" strategy always sounds as though it came right out of a focus group.  We will also have to wait and see if the President undermines his professed support for climate change action by approving the Keystone XL pipeline.  Keystone tends to register broad but shallow support because people just tend to like "more" energy overall.  Passion, thankfully, lies on the side of the opponents.

Rather than acknowledging public support for carbon regulations, Senate Republicans have already introduced legislation to prevent the EPA from issuing such standards. Thankfully, it won't go anywhere. A budget amendment by Sen. Inhofe back in March which sought to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases failed 47 to 52.

Climate legislation, of course, is DOA in the House, and it unfortunately seems unlikely the Senate as well. I've written before about why I doubt the proposed Boxer-Sanders legislation could even pass committee.

The money from fossil fuel interests, particularly Big Oil and Big Coal, win over the hearts and minds--and votes--of too many of our lawmakers, so near-term action on climate will have to come from the executive.  I hope that Obama will let Gina McCarthy do her job and do it well and not cater to polluters instead as he has done in the past. I wish Gina the best.  The planet depends on her.

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