Most Americans want their government to do more to address climate change—as long as it doesn't take a big toll on their pocketbooks, according to a new poll.
About 7 in 10 respondents said climate change is happening, according to results released yesterday from the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That's about the same result the poll registered this time last year, and it aligns with survey results released this summer from Yale and George Mason universities.
Only about half of those respondents blamed human activity for warming temperatures, but 61 percent of them—including 43 percent of Republicans—said it's a problem the government needs to tackle.
Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center, said the bipartisan agreement on climate change's existence could be reason to hope for policy action: "Public opinion around many energy issues tends to be fluid, with people often defaulting to partisan starting points. But this survey shows an opportunity for consensus building through discussion and debate."
The poll suggested the public knows little about specific energy issues, with money driving people's views more than health or environmental considerations.
Most respondents said they would support policies to lower emissions, but half said they would be unwilling to pay even $1 more on their electric bill to do so. If climate policies cost an extra $10 per month, 60 percent of respondents said they would oppose them.
Political leanings—more than income, education or geographic location—were the biggest indicator of whether someone would pay a modest fee to combat climate change.
Other studies have also suggested politics has more to do with attitudes toward climate policy than with economics.
As the U.S. economy slumped between 2008 and 2012, multiple surveys showed Americans' belief in climate change dropped about 10 percentage points before rebounding.
Researchers who tracked the same individuals during the downturn found that economic factors didn't influence opinions at all. Instead, people were responding to cues from political and opinion leaders—specifically tea party Republicans who cast doubt on climate science.
Ordinary people can't be experts on everything, so most folks look to people they respect—church leaders, the president, neighbors—for cues on issues of expertise, like climate change, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
"For those people who are dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters, they look to him and he's their leader, and what he says is the truth. For other people, it's Republicans [in general], so they'll look beyond Trump to what other Republican leaders are saying," said Leiserowitz, who was not involved in the University of Chicago-AP poll.
20% want Clean Power Plan axed
With the Trump administration poised to replace the Clean Power Plan, about 40 percent of those polled said they oppose rolling back the Obama administration's climate rule. About the same number of people said they have no opinion, and 20 percent said they want it gone.
The Trump administration is also preparing to attend the first global climate conference since announcing the United States' intention to quit the Paris climate agreement. Twenty-eight percent of people support the decision to exit Paris, according to this poll, and 42 percent oppose it.
The results suggest the Paris Agreement's potential costs were the biggest reason people wanted out.
Hydraulic fracturing registered little support, with 41 percent of the poll's respondents opposed to it and 37 giving no opinion on it. Seventeen percent said they favor it.
Seventeen percent of those polled also said they favor the direction of U.S. energy policy, but 45 percent said they have no feelings on it.
The poll's margin of error was 4.1 percentage points, and it surveyed more than 1,000 adults on the web or by phone Aug. 17-21.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.