This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including a new international sustainability poll from POLITICO and Morning Consult, findings about the public’s reactions to different terms for methane gas, and state-level polls in Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
- POLITICO + Morning Consult - People across the world want to hold corporate polluters more accountable for their environmental impact; the U.S. has the world’s biggest ideological divide over climate action (POLITICO article summarizing major poll findings, POLITICO article on poll findings about government + corporate accountability)
- Vox - Polls consistently find that Americans feel less favorably about “methane gas” than “natural gas” (Article)
- Audubon Great Lakes (Indiana) - Bipartisan majorities of Indiana voters support net metering and expanding renewable energy use in the state (Release, Full Report)
- Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund (Maryland) - Maryland voters support making new buildings fully electric to help combat climate change (Release, Full Report)
- UW-Madison La Follette Policy Poll (Wisconsin) - Wisconsinites want their state government to take more action to address climate change; residents especially support increasing renewable energy production, investing in carbon removal technology, and taxing industries to remove industrial pollution like PFAS (Release, Topline)
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
- [National] 68% of Americans believe that fossil fuel companies should be held responsible for the impacts that their products have on the environment [POLITICO/Morning Consult]
- [National] 67% of Americans believe that wealthy countries should pay to help lower-income countries combat climate change [POLITICO/Morning Consult]
- [National] More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single most important issue to them than any other issue besides health care and the economy [Economist/YouGov]
- [Indiana] 75% of Indiana voters support net metering [Audubon Great Lakes]
- [Indiana] 74% of Indiana voters support expanding the use of renewable energy in Indiana [Audubon Great Lakes]
- [Maryland] By a greater than two to one margin (63%-30%), Maryland voters support the Maryland General Assembly prioritizing clean energy policies that would cut greenhouse gas pollution 60% by 2030 ([CCAN Action Fund]
- [Wisconsin] 75% of Wisconsinites support the state taxing industries to remove industrial pollution such as PFAS [UW-Madison]
- [Wisconsin] 69% of Wisconsinites support the state doubling the amount of electricity it generates from renewables like wind or solar power by 2030 [UW-Madison]
POLITICO + Morning Consult
People across the world want to hold corporate polluters more accountable for their environmental impact; the U.S. has the world’s biggest ideological divide over climate action (POLITICO article summarizing major poll findings, POLITICO article on poll findings about government + corporate accountability)
POLITICO and Morning Consult surveyed people in 13 countries for this new Global Sustainability Poll and found that, in major economies across the world, people want to see fossil fuel companies held responsible for their environmental impact.
Among U.S. respondents, 68% believe that fossil fuel companies should be held responsible for the impacts that their products have on the environment. Americans’ attitudes are on the lower end of the countries surveyed, with the percentages who want to see fossil fuel companies held responsible ranging from 65% in Germany and Japan up to 90% in Russia.
Polls in the U.S. consistently show that greater corporate accountability on climate is one of the rare climate-friendly proposals that Americans generally agree on across partisan lines, and this new poll shows that the idea is popular across nations as well.
The poll also found widespread agreement across countries that wealthy countries should “pay to help lower-income countries combat climate change.” Agreement on this point ranged from 66% among Japanese respondents up to 88% among Indian and South African respondents, and Americans were again on the lower end with 67% supporting the idea.
Americans’ ideological divides on climate and environmental issues are certainly dragging down the U.S.’s figures on these types of metrics, relative to other countries. Other polling from sources like Pew, for example, has found that politically left-leaning Americans are generally as supportive of climate action as left-leaning residents of other countries.
This new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll reaffirms that the U.S. has a bigger left/right attitudinal divide over climate than any other country. Excerpting from the first article linked above:
“The United States is home to the largest ideological divide on climate action. Among Americans, 97 percent of left-leaning voters expressed concern about climate change, compared to 51 percent of right-leaning voters.
Majorities in all 13 countries surveyed said they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change. That includes majorities among right-leaning voters in every country, except Australia where only 49 percent of right-leaning voters said they are concerned.
While left-leaning voters are overall most likely to express concern about the climate, the ideological divide is small in most of the countries surveyed. The ideological gap is narrowest in the countries where citizens are most concerned about climate change: Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.
Ninety percent of Brazil’s self-identified left is concerned about climate change, compared to 93 percent of centrist voters, and 78 percent of right-leaning voters. In Mexico, centrist and right-leaning voters are more concerned than their left-leaning compatriots.”
The article also details how left-leaning Americans are overwhelmingly feeling frustrated with the lack of action they see on climate change at the national level, and are putting blame on President Biden:
“Surprisingly, climate may be the only issue where President Joe Biden is getting higher marks from the right than from the left. That’s not necessarily because Republican voters are concerned that Biden is doing enough, but because they’re satisfied that he is legislatively constrained.
Biden’s base, meanwhile, is furious. Though the administration has made climate action a centerpiece of its rhetoric, executive action and legislative agenda, 80 percent of Americans who labeled themselves left-leaning said that the Biden administration is doing too little to address climate change, including 64 percent of Democrats surveyed.”
Polls consistently find that Americans feel less favorably about “methane gas” than “natural gas” (Article)
There’s no newly released polling here, but this Vox article does a good job of laying out the case for why the term “natural gas” should be avoided and replaced with an alternative term - ideally “methane gas,” so as to better educate the public that methane is its primary ingredient.
As the article explains, this is an important language distinction that can have a big impact on public opinion (emphasis added in bold):
“When the climate communications group Climate Nexus conducted a poll of 4,600 registered US voters last fall, 77 percent had a favorable view of natural gas, far higher than when asked about their views on methane. Less than a third were able to link that natural gas is primarily methane. In the same poll, a majority incorrectly answered that they think methane pollution is declining or staying about the same. Other surveys show similar results.
The reason for the disconnect is embedded in the very name, “natural gas.” The word “natural” tends to bias Americans to view whatever it is affixed to as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly. Natural foods, natural immunity, and natural births are among the many buzzwords of the moment.
Researchers at Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication had a hunch about gas that they had a chance to test in a peer-reviewed paper published last fall. They knew from previous public opinion polls that Americans are more likely to view natural gas far more favorably than other fossil fuels and see it as a solution for climate change, rather than a driver. Anthony Leiserowitz, one of the researchers and co-author of the paper, wanted to isolate the effect the word “natural” had on these views.
They found a big effect, in line with the large body of social science research showing how food products labeled “natural” lead people to consider them more eco-friendly and healthy. The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, examined how 3,000 respondents viewed different synonyms for gas. More than half of participants had a positive view of natural gas, but the advantage shrank immediately when you called it “natural methane gas” or “methane gas,” as well as for “fossil gas” and “fracked gas.” A second survey asked 500 participants to word-associate with “natural gas.” Only a tiny portion of the respondents, fewer than 6 percent, associated natural gas with methane, showing, according to the researchers, “that the relationship between the two is not a typical top-of-mind association.”
As for what should replace our default language, Anthony Leiserowitz’s 2021 Yale study had another finding that’s important to consider: Calling gas “fossil” or “fracked” could backfire if the objective is to reach as broad an audience as possible. The Yale polling found Republican voters viewed gas more favorably when it was called fossil gas or fracked gas, but more neutrally when it was called methane gas.”
Audubon Great Lakes (Indiana)
This poll of Indiana voters touches on a couple of important polling lessons: 1.) providing basic education about different energy sources can help boost public perceptions of renewables and 2.) voters on both sides of the partisan spectrum are more likely to find agreement when they see themselves as united against a common enemy (in this case, utility companies).
To point #1, this poll informed respondents that less than 10% of Indiana’s energy is currently generated by renewable energy sources before asking them if they favored or opposed expanding the use of renewable energy in Indiana. In response, nearly three-quarters of Indiana voters (74%) - including 63% of Republicans - said they supported expanding the use of renewables.
The numbers on this question were likely to be favorable regardless, as clean energy is generally quite popular even in conservative, coal-producing states like Indiana, but the information presented in the lead-in to the question almost certainly helped boost respondents’ support for expanding renewables.
People know very little about where their energy comes from, how much it costs to generate energy from different sources, or other basic information about energy production because they just don’t think about it regularly. And while many voters - particularly the most conservative voters - push back against the idea of completely replacing fossil fuels in the near future, explaining how renewables currently account for a fairly small fraction of energy consumption as a baseline can make the shift toward renewables seem less dramatic or disruptive.
To point #2 above, the poll also finds overwhelming support for net metering (75% in favor, including 74% of Republicans and 72% of Trump voters) after a brief description that emphasizes the benefits to consumers: “Net metering is a policy that allows homes, schools, churches and businesses with renewable energy systems, like solar panels, to sell any extra power they generate back to an electric utility company for the same price that the utility charges to buy the electricity. This policy is called net metering since these customers’ electric meters run both forward and backward and they are billed monthly for their ‘net’ energy use.”
This picks up on a similar theme as the international POLITICO/Morning Consult poll’s findings about corporate accountability: there’s a lot of space to create cross-partisan agreement on climate policies by framing policy positions as choices between corporate interests and the public interest.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund (Maryland)
More state-specific polling here, courtesy of the CCAN Action Fund, shows that voters in Maryland are mostly supportive of requiring all-electric systems in new buildings.
There’s a lot of support in general for the state prioritizing clean energy: when told that climate scientists warn of serious impacts like sea level rise and the loss of agricultural production unless greenhouse gas pollution in the state is cut, over three in five Marylanders (63%) say they want the state’s General Assembly to prioritize clean energy policies that cut pollution by 60% by 2030.
By a smaller margin, but still with a majority in favor, Marylanders support the idea of requiring all new buildings in the state to be fully electric as a step in reducing climate pollution (53% support / 40% oppose).
The poll does a good job of clarifying what this means in practical terms: “One idea for combating climate change in Maryland is to mandate that all new buildings in the state be powered with electric energy systems instead of burning oil, gas or propane. This includes electric heating and cooling of homes, electric hot water, and electric cook stoves.”
As this poll shows, people’s initial reactions to requiring all-electric systems in new buildings are mostly but not overwhelmingly positive. Encouragingly, however, voters seem to warm more to the idea as they learn more of the case for it: after hearing that new evidence shows “that the indoor combustion of gas stoves can be a health threat to children and the medically vulnerable,” the initial 13-point margin in favor of the electrification requirement (53% support / 40% oppose) rises to 18 points (55% support / 37% oppose).
UW-Madison La Follette Policy Poll (Wisconsin)
Wisconsinites want their state government to take more action to address climate change; residents especially support increasing renewable energy production, investing in carbon removal technology, and taxing industries to remove industrial pollution like PFAS (Release, Topline)
This poll of Wisconsin adults finds that the clear majority want their state government to do more to address the climate crisis: 62% of Wisconsinites want the state government to do more than it does now to address climate change, while just 15% want climate change to be less of a focus.
When it comes to specific climate and environmental policies that the state could adopt, certain proposals have far broader support than others. Proposals for the state to invest in a cleaner energy future - including both renewable energy production and carbon removal technology - are especially popular, as are proposals to hold farms and other businesses accountable for water pollution.
Here’s the full list of climate and environmental policy proposals tested in the poll, ranked by the % of Wisconsinites who support each idea:
- Taxing industries to remove industrial pollution, such as PFAS (75%)
- Requiring farmers to maintain a 15 foot buffer between crops and rivers or lakes (74%)
- Doubling the amount of electricity to come from renewables like wind or solar power by 2030 (69%)
- Helping to pay for new technologies that directly remove carbon dioxide, or CO2, from the air (59%)
- Including the cost of climate change when approving new energy infrastructure (55%)
- Taxing fertilizers to reduce runoff from farms (54%)
- Delaying or canceling new fossil fuel projects, such as coal power plants or oil pipelines (47%)
- Helping to pay for making electric vehicle charging stations widely available (43%)
- Limiting the construction of new high-capacity wells (41%)
- Raising water utility to rates to pay to remove industrial pollution, such as PFAS (34%)
- Helping to pay for new nuclear power plants (31%)