Public Resource

Environmental Polling Roundup - October 15th, 2021

David Gold, Environmental Polling Consortium
10-15-2021

This post includes a roundup of climate + environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from this week’s public polls - including new polling on the renewable energy transition, individual policies and trade-offs in the Build Back Better budget, and some stark data points highlighting the need for voter education on what’s in the budget.

 

HEADLINES

  • Climate Nexus + Yale Program on Climate Change Communication + George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication - Voters widely want the U.S. to transition to renewable energy and see it as an economic plus, but there is still work to do to convince the public of renewables’ reliability and cost effectiveness; public understanding of methane pollution is very low (ReleaseTopline)
  • CNN/SRSS - A plurality of Americans want the full Build Back Better package passed without cuts, but few see how the legislation would help their own family (ArticleTopline)
  • CBS/YouGov - Americans are hearing more about the Build Back Better budget’s $3.5 trillion topline spending figure and tax increases than any of its substantive benefits (Topline)
  • Yahoo/YouGov - Clean water is the single most popular component of the Build Back Better budget; lowering the plan’s price tag does virtually nothing to persuade the plan’s opponents to change their minds (ToplineCrosstabs)
  • POLITICO/Morning Consult - Climate change and the environment are the two issues on which voters are most likely to trust Democrats in Congress over Republicans in Congress; voters are divided on offshore drilling bans (ToplineCrosstabs)
  • Climate Action Campaign + Environment America - The Build Back Better plan has majority support in key congressional swing districts; ‘polluters pay’ laws and renewable energy investments are especially popular (GA-07 ReleaseGA-07 MemoVA-07 ReleaseVA-07 Memo)

 

GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT (NATIONAL)

  • 80% of Americans support making drinking water clean for all Americans by replacing lead pipes [Yahoo/YouGov]
  • 75% of voters agree that the primary goal of U.S. energy policy should be achieving 100% clean energy [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • 75% of voters support reinstating regulations on methane pollution that require oil and gas companies to detect and plug methane leaks [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • 68% of voters support expanding tax credits and other incentives to increase production of renewable energy [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • 68% of voters support building public charging stations for electric vehicles [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • 64% of Americans support financial incentives for electric utility companies to shift to clean energy, along with penalties for utilities that don’t shift to clean energy [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • 63% of voters support tax incentives or rebates for switching from natural gas to electric appliances [Climate Nexus/Yale/GMU]
  • More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single most important issue area to them than any other issue area besides health care [Economist/YouGov]

 

GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT (KEY STATES + DISTRICTS)

  • NJ: 75% of New Jersey voters support the development of wind energy stations off the coast of New Jersey [ReThink Energy NJ/FDU]
  • GA-07: Voters in GA-07 (Bourdeaux) support the full Build Back Better plan by a 54%-44% margin [CAC/Environment America]
  • GA-07: Voters in GA-07 (Bourdeaux) support new measures to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy by a 64%-33% margin [CAC/Environment America]
  • VA-07: Voters in VA-07 (Spanberger) support the full Build Back Better plan by a 53%-44% margin [CAC/Environment America
  • VA-07: Voters in VA-07 (Spanberger) support new measures to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy by a 62%-34% margin [CAC/Environment America

 

FULL ROUNDUP

 

Climate Nexus + Yale Program on Climate Change Communication + George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication - Voters widely want the U.S. to transition to renewable energy and see it as an economic plus, but there is still work to do to convince the public of renewables’ reliability and cost effectiveness; public understanding of methane pollution is very low (Release, Topline)

This is a very comprehensive poll that touches on most of the major climate and clean energy policy debates happening right now, so it’s well worth looking over the topline in full.

One of the clear takeaways of the poll is that voters continue to support the clean energy transition in large numbers. By a 75%-20% margin, voters agree that “the primary goal of U.S. energy policy should be achieving 100% clean energy.” Further, when asked to choose which is more likely to produce a greater number of good jobs for Americans, voters are twice as likely to believe that increasing domestic production of renewables (56%) will have a better impact on jobs than increasing domestic production of fossil fuels (27%).

It’s not all rosy data, however, with the poll also clearly illustrating familiar sticking points around costs and reliability concerns. 

Voters are still largely clueless about how much the costs of renewables have gone down, as just 31% of voters believe that energy from wind and solar is less expensive than energy from natural gas. Another 29% believe that renewables are actually more expensive, while 19% believe the costs are about the same and 21% admit they don’t know.

Additionally, while most voters see renewable energy from wind and solar as “reliable” (65%), they are still more likely to believe that natural gas (77%) is a “reliable” energy source.

The poll also shows how much room there is to educate voters about the hazards of methane pollution - and, by the same coin, how much opportunity there is to drive support for stronger action to combat methane pollution.

Just 42% of Americans believe that methane is a “polluting” energy source (while 27% actually believe it’s “clean”), and only 45% know that methane pollution has increased in the last decade. However, when provided with basic facts about how methane pollution has recently increased dramatically, voters overwhelmingly support reinstating regulations requiring oil and gas companies to detect and plug methane leaks (75% support / 14% oppose) and having the EPA enact new methane regulations that would go even further to control methane emissions (68% support / 18% oppose).

 

CNN/SRSS - A plurality of Americans want the full Build Back Better package passed without cuts, but few see how the legislation would help their own family (Article, Topline)

This new poll released by CNN gauged attitudes about possible congressional action after explaining to respondents that Congress is “considering two bills which include significant pieces of Joe Biden’s policy agenda,” including an infrastructure bill “which has passed the Senate with bipartisan support” and an economic bill “which would expand social safety net programs and enacts policies to combat climate change.”

After learning these basic details, a plurality of Americans (41%) would prefer to “pass a bill that enacts all of the proposed social safety net and climate change policies” - while 30% would prefer to “pass a bill that enacts fewer of these policies, but which costs less money” and 29% don’t want to pass “any version of the bill.”

There are expectedly stark partisan differences on this question, as 75% of Democrats but just 6% of Republicans want to pass the complete package. Republicans are somewhat divided between passing a smaller, less expensive bill (39%) and not passing anything at all (55%). Meanwhile, independents are split roughly in thirds between passing the full package (36%), passing a smaller and less expensive package (32%), and not passing anything (32%).

The poll’s question about the personal impacts of the two pieces of legislation goes a long way to explaining why Americans are divided on the Build Back Better plan: just 25% of Americans see how they’d be “better off” if the infrastructure and reconciliation proposals become law.

These types of attitudes are certainly driven by partisanship to an extent: Republican voters are generally reluctant to say that any piece of Democratic-driven legislation will benefit them, and Democratic voters are generally inclined to say that Democratic-driven legislation will have a positive impact. However, the numbers in this case are pretty low across the board: just 49% of Democrats, 20% of independents, and 4% of Republicans expect that these two major pieces of Biden’s legislative agenda will make them and their family better off. 

These data points demonstrate how the individual impacts of the legislation are unfortunately getting lost in the static at the moment and it is therefore critical for communicators advocating for the Build Back Better budget to make a clear case about how typical households will benefit.

 

CBS/YouGov - Americans are hearing more about the Build Back Better budget’s $3.5 trillion topline spending figure and tax increases than any of its substantive benefits (Topline)

This CBS/YouGov poll also provides some important context on what’s breaking through (or not) to regular Americans in the debate over Build Back Better. When provided with a list of items and asked which they’d heard about being included in the proposed legislation, majorities say they’ve heard that the bill includes $3.5 trillion in spending (59%) and that it includes tax increases for high-income individuals (58%). However, fewer than half know about most of its key provisions. 

Here’s the full list from the poll, ranked by the % of Americans who know that each item is included in the Build Back Better proposal:

  • $3.5 trillion in spending - 59%
  • Tax increases for high-income individuals - 58%
  • Tax increases for corporations - 53%
  • Free community college - 53%
  • Paid family and medical leave - 46%
  • Universal pre-K for children - 46%
  • Lower Medicare prescription drug prices - 40%
  • Medicare coverage for dental, eye and hearing - 40%

As this ranking illustrates, basic information about the core provisions of the plan simply hasn’t broken through to most Americans and the pieces of the debate that people are catching tend to focus more on how much it costs and how it’s paid for. This is particularly problematic because the substance of the bill is extremely popular: when people are informed about what the bill includes, majorities tend to support it. Navigator, for example, generally finds that voters support the bill by a two-to-one margin after reading a brief explanation of it.

And support for specific major provisions tends to be even higher. However, the public first needs to hear that these provisions exist. In this CBS/YouGov poll, for example, the provisions related to lowering Medicare prescription drug prices (40% know it’s in the bill, 88% support it) and expanding Medicare (40% know it’s in the bill, 84% support it) are the two policies that Americans are most likely to support and the two policies that Americans are least likely to know about

Note that this poll didn’t ask about specific climate and clean energy provisions. However, given that majorities didn’t know about major provisions like the ones related to family and medical leave and prescription drug prices, it’s safe to assume that most don’t know about the particular climate and clean energy policies that the bill contains.

There’s clearly a lot of work to do to educate the public about what’s in the bill, and it’s worth keeping in mind that education and persuasion around the Build Back Better plan go hand in hand: the more Americans learn about it, the more they tend to support it. That’s why it’s so important for advocates to actively re-frame the narrative to be about the substance of the plan rather than the process and costs.

 

Yahoo/YouGov - Clean water is the single most popular component of the Build Back Better budget; lowering the plan’s price tag does virtually nothing to persuade the plan’s opponents to change their minds (Topline, Crosstabs)

This Yahoo/YouGov poll elucidates how the focus on the Build Back Better budget’s price tag is a no-win proposition for advocates. It’s not that regular Americans are concerned about the $3.5 trillion figure, but rather that they don’t care much about the cost either way and the price tag debate ends up distracting from the substance of the plan.

Here, Yahoo and YouGov find that Americans support the plan by a 48%-32% margin when it’s described as “a $3.5 trillion plan that would do more to address climate change while also supporting working families with childcare subsidies, national paid family leave and universal pre-K.” 

The poll followed up with that 32% who oppose the full plan by asking whether they would support it “if it were more limited in scope and cost $2 trillion or less” - and found that just 7% of people who oppose the full Build Back Better budget would support a smaller version costing $2 trillion or less

This is a good example of how an insider debate that matters a great deal to lawmakers can have virtually no salience with the general public. People who are persuadable on the Build Back Better budget aren’t weighing up the costs and benefits and considering whether it’s a good use of the money - they generally just don’t know what’s in the plan.

The poll also measured support for many of the specific provisions being considered as part of the Build Back Better bill and BIF. It’s a long list, but here are the most popular provisions of the 16 tested:

  • Making drinking water clean for all Americans by replacing lead pipes (80% favor / 7% oppose)
  • Extending Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing (75% favor / 11% oppose)
  • Increasing funding for in-home care of older Americans and those with disabilities (73% favor / 11% oppose)
  • Investing in the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector (74% favor / 8% oppose)

And here are the specific climate and clean energy provisions that the poll tested, ranked by the % in favor:

  • Building affordable and energy-efficient housing units (65% favor / 18% oppose)
  • Investing in clean energy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change (59% favor / 24% oppose)
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations on the nation’s roadways (51% favor / 25% oppose)
  • Creating a Civilian Climate Corps to help areas build resiliency to and recover from the effects of climate change (45% favor / 30% oppose)

These findings are consistent with a large body of public polling showing that clean drinking water, expanding Medicare coverage, and investing in long-term care for seniors and the disabled rank among the most popular aspects of the Build Back Better budget. And when it comes to specific climate and clean energy provisions, investments in energy efficiency and clean energy tend to be more broadly compelling than provisions related to electric vehicles and the Civilian Climate Corps. 

That said, given how popular most of these items are and how little the public knows about what’s in the bill, it’s hard to go wrong with a message that focuses on any of its substantive provisions. 

 

POLITICO/Morning Consult - Climate change and the environment are the two issues on which voters are most likely to trust Democrats in Congress over Republicans in Congress; voters are divided on offshore drilling bans (Topline, Crosstabs)

POLITICO and Morning Consult asked voters whether they trusted Democrats in Congress or Republicans in Congress more to handle 13 different issues, which is particularly topical given the current debate in Democratic data circles around “popularism” and which issues the party should focus on. 

The poll shows that the Democratic Party has more of a relative advantage over the Republican Party on climate and the environment than on any other issues, and it’s not particularly close. Voters trust congressional Democrats over congressional Republicans by 22 points on climate change (49% Democrats in Congress / 27% Republicans in Congress) and by 21 points on the environment (50% Democrats in Congress / 29% Republicans in Congress).

The next widest advantages for Democrats come on the coronavirus (11 points, 45%-34%), health care (10 points, 47%-37%) and protecting Medicare and Social Security (10 points, 46%-36%).  

The poll also asked a few questions related to the recent oil spill off the California coast and the renewed push in Congress to curtail offshore drilling. The idea of banning all existing offshore drilling in the entire U.S. is unpopular (31% support / 49% oppose), but voters are more amenable to banning new offshore drilling in the U.S. (40% support / 42% oppose). The public also has mixed opinions about specifically banning existing offshore drilling in California (36% support / 44% oppose) or banning new offshore drilling in California (45% support / 36% oppose).

This is a fairly consistent theme in polling about fossil fuel projects: voters widely support focusing on clean energy over fossil fuels and transitioning to a 100% clean energy economy over time, but the specific concrete steps needed to get there don’t poll as well and bans on fossil fuel projects get a considerable amount of pushback.

 

Climate Action Campaign + Environment America - The Build Back Better plan has majority support in key congressional swing districts; ‘polluters pay’ laws and renewable energy investments are especially popular (GA-07 Release, GA-07 Memo, VA-07 Release, VA-07 Memo)

 

These district-specific polls show that the Build Back Better plan has majority support in two very tough Democratic-held congressional districts. After reading a brief description that outlines the price tag and major provisions, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux’s constituents in GA-07 support the plan by a 54%-44% margin and Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s constituents in VA-07 support it by a 53%-44% margin. 

Specific clean energy provisions poll even higher, as voters in GA-07 support measures to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy by a 64%-33% margin and voters in VA-07 support these measures by a 62%-34% margin.

One finding from these polls that is broadly applicable regardless of the location you focus on is the salience of corporate accountability on climate change. When presented with the idea of reinstating ‘polluters pay’ laws to “require corporate polluters to fund the clean up of their industry’s toxic pollution and set a fee on oil and gas companies that emit methane,” voters back the idea by overwhelming margins in both GA-07 (72% support / 26% oppose) and VA-07 (68% support / 27% oppose).

This illustrates a common finding in climate polling: proposals and messages that frame the climate policy debate to be a conflict between everyday people and corporate polluters are often highly compelling, in large part because they avoid the trap of left vs. right signaling that pushes voters into their partisan corners.