This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including a new report from Pew on Americans’ attitudes toward different energy sources, new battleground polling on a potential reconciliation package in Congress, and new polling about carbon removal.
- Pew - Americans continue to favor the development of renewable energy over expanding fossil fuels, but GOP support for fossil fuels is rising (Article, Full Report, Topline)
- LCV Victory Fund + Climate Power (AZ, GA, NH, & NV) - Legislation along the lines of the Build Back Better Act is overwhelmingly popular in key U.S. Senate battlegrounds, with clear electoral benefits for incumbents if it passes (Memo)
- Data for Progress - Voters across the political spectrum want the government to help accelerate carbon removal innovation (Article, National Topline, NY Topline)
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
86% of Americans support expanding solar energy [Pew]
79% of Americans support expanding wind energy [Pew]
By a 71%-17% margin, voters support the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act to accelerate the development of carbon removal technologies [Data for Progress]
By a 67%-32% margin, Americans say that developing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydrogen is more important for the country than expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas [Pew]
More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single most important issue to them than any other issue aside from the economy and health care [Economist + YouGov]
[New York State] By a 72%-17% margin, New York State voters support state lawmakers passing the Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act to accelerate the development of carbon removal in New York State [Data for Progress]
This new energy poll from Pew was fielded in early May, so it captures how Americans are feeling toward different energy sources amidst the current energy crisis.
Pew finds that, when asked to choose between the two, Americans still widely prioritize developing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology (67%) over expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas (32%).
This clear preference in favor of a cleaner energy approach provides some important context given that other recent polling has shown that Americans are split between ramping up clean energy or fossil fuel production in response to rising energy prices. The Pew data indicates that, while the spike in gas prices may have made Americans more amenable to new drilling than they otherwise would have been, the public still resoundingly prefers for the country’s energy strategy to focus more on clean energy sources than fossil fuels.
Pew’s long-term trend on this question is also notable, particularly when broken down by partisanship. In general, the majority in favor of prioritizing clean energy over fossil fuels has dropped steadily since President Biden took office: Americans favored clean energy over fossil fuels by a commanding 79%-20% margin during Trump’s last year in office (May 2020), but this margin dipped to 71%-27% soon after Biden took office (April 2020) and has continued to decline incrementally since (to 69%-30% in January 2022 and 67%-32% in this latest poll).
During that period, self-identified Democrats’ attitudes have been stable: 88%-91% of Democrats have said they wanted to prioritize clean energy over fossil fuels each of the four times that Pew has asked this question since May 2020. However, self-identified Republicans’ attitudes have shifted dramatically in the last two years: Republicans said they wanted to prioritize clean energy over fossil fuels by a 30-point margin in May 2020 (65%-35%), and now in May 2022 they say they want to prioritize fossil fuels over clean energy by an 18-point margin (59%-41%). This is a net swing of 48 points, from a 30-point margin in favor of clean energy to an 18-point margin in favor of fossil fuels, and underlines how malleable Republican partisans’ attitudes are on energy issues.
The Pew data also suggests quite strongly that Republican partisans’ renewed preference for fossil fuels is more of a response to President Biden taking office than any other factor. Self-identified Republicans shifted by a net margin of 35 points on this question between May 2020 (30 points in favor of clean energy, 65%-30%) and April 2021 (5 points in favor of fossil fuels, 52%-47%), and by a relatively more modest 13 points between April 2021 and May 2022 (to 18 points in favor of fossil fuels, 59%-41%). While Republicans’ preferences still appear to be trending toward fossil fuels, therefore, it’s very difficult to separate Republican partisans’ shifts in the energy debate specifically from their continued backlash against perceived Democratic priorities in general with Biden in office.
This raises the question of how to persuasively talk about clean energy in such a polarized environment, and fortunately the Pew survey has some insightful data to help guide advocates there. Specificity in communications can help, as solar and wind remain by far the two most popular of the United States’ major energy sources. Here are the specific types of energy development that Pew asked about, ranked by the percentage of Americans who favor expanding each type:
Solar panel “farms” - 86%
Wind turbine “farms” - 79%
Nuclear power plants - 54%
Offshore oil and gas drilling - 48% favor
Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas - 45%
Coal mining - 36%
These questions about specific energy sources also demonstrate that Republican partisans still widely favor expanding solar and wind power, and Republicans’ conflicted feelings in the energy debate are more because they like a broad range of different energy sources than because of any particular antipathy toward clean energy. Here’s the same list of energy sources, ranked by the percentage of self-identified Republicans who favor expanding each type:
Solar panel “farms” - 77%
Offshore oil and gas drilling - 76%
Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas - 71%
Nuclear power plants - 66%
Wind turbine “farms” - 64%
Coal mining - 62%
As this ranking demonstrates, Republican partisans are widely on board with expanding clean energy in general - especially solar, which is as popular among any other energy source with Republicans. (And research into why Republicans favor solar over wind would be worthwhile, as solar and wind poll nearly identically among Democrats). It’s when clean energy is presented as inherently in conflict with fossil fuels that Republican partisans seem to interpret it as a political issue and, accordingly, come to the defense of fossil fuels.
LCV Victory Fund + Climate Power (AZ, GA, NH, & NV)
Legislation along the lines of the Build Back Better Act is overwhelmingly popular in key U.S. Senate battlegrounds, with clear electoral benefits for incumbents if it passes (Memo)
This new battleground poll memo from the LCV Victory Fund and Climate Power focuses on potential legislation that would carry over many of the same core pieces as the Build Back Better Act and center on the four priorities that Sen. Joe Manchin said he would support as part of a reconciliation bill (described in the memo as “(a) giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices, (b) providing funding and tax incentives to combat climate change and increase the use of clean energy sources, (c) raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and (d) lowering the federal government budget deficit.”)
Consistent with a large body of polling that shows widespread and durable support for the substance of the Build Back Better Act, LCV Victory Fund and Climate Power find that this proposed reconciliation package is popular across key U.S. Senate battlegrounds and would be a political winner for incumbent Senators who vote for it. Pulling from the memo:
“Two important findings emerge from this research:
First, a very large majority of voters across the four states favor passage of this legislative package and believe it is important for the U.S. Senate to take action on it.
Second, passage of the legislation would provide a significant benefit to Senator Manchin’s colleagues in their reelection campaigns by solidifying their current support, creating the opportunity for new crossover support, and giving Democratic voters a reason to be more enthusiastic about turning out to vote in November.”
On the specific question of how support for this legislation would translate to electoral benefits for incumbents who back it, the poll finds that voters in the four battlegrounds are 23 to 33 points more likely to say that the legislation would make them more inclined to vote for their incumbent than less inclined:
Nevada - 33 points (52% more likely to re-elect / 19% less likely to re-elect)
Georgia - 30 points (48% more likely to re-elect / 18% less likely to re-elect)
Arizona - 30 points (47% more likely to re-elect / 17% less likely to re-elect)
New Hampshire - 23 points (39% more likely to re-elect / 16% less likely to re-elect)
The memo makes two additional key points about the political upside of passing a reconciliation package - specifically, that it can persuade voters who don’t currently approve of the job that their incumbents are doing and that it will motivate base voters in November. Quoting again from the memo:
“Each of the four incumbents currently has net positive job approval ratings in their states, and helping to pass this legislation would reinforce each senator’s current support. Additionally, 14% of those who do not currently approve of the incumbent say they would be more likely to vote for them if they help pass this legislation – demonstrating the potential of this legislation to add incremental support that can be vital to providing each incumbent with a winning margin.
Many surveys have documented the frustration of voters, including Democratic voters, with a perceived lack of action by Congress on key issues – a frustration that surveys show takes a toll on the motivation of voters to turn out in November. Passage of this legislation would be an important antidote to that phenomenon. Across the four states, 62% say they would be more motivated and enthusiastic about voting in the elections this November if Congress took action and actually passed this legislation. Democrats in particular would be more motivated to vote (81%), including many Democrats who currently express a lower degree of enthusiasm about voting.”
Data for Progress
We haven’t seen a ton of polling on carbon removal since this July 2021 poll memo from Data for Progress, but the polling data we have is encouraging.
In this new release, Data for Progress finds that voters nationwide support the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act by an overwhelming 71%-17% margin after reading a brief summary of the recently introduced bill. The proposal enjoys broad support from across the political spectrum, with Democrats supporting it by an 85%-6% margin, independent voters supporting it by a 69%-19% margin, and Republicans supporting it by a 59%-28% margin.
Public opinion about new policy proposals can change quickly, especially on issues that voters don’t have a strong understanding of, but this polling indicates that there is a window now to build and solidify bipartisan public support for carbon removal measures.
Data for Progress also polled New York State voters on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act that has been proposed at the state level, and finds that the state bill in New York draws similarly high support (72%-17%) as the federal proposal.