This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including new polling on the Inflation Reduction Act, attitudes toward the country’s major domestic energy sources, and a new paper on the behaviors and perceptions that correlate the most strongly with changes in climate attitudes.
- Navigator - Support for the Inflation Reduction Act remains high as most voters say they’ve heard about it (Release, Deck, Topline)
- Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) - People who have seen others’ experiences with climate change are more likely to say they’ve changed their opinions about it; learning more about climate change, personally experiencing the impacts, and perceiving social norms are also linked with changes in opinion (Article)
- ecoAmerica - Wind and solar remain Americans’ most favored energy sources, while support for nuclear energy continues to trend steadily upward; Americans are far less likely to blame gas for for pollution and climate change than other fossil fuels (Article, Report, Topline)
Supporters of the Inflation Reduction Act are winning the public debate over it, but still need to help the public understand what’s in the bill. Polling on the Inflation Reduction Act has been very consistent in showing that Americans support the bill by wide margins when provided with even basic information about what’s included in it. New polling by Navigator further demonstrates that support for the Inflation Reduction Act has held steady as voters have grown increasingly familiar with it, though there is still ample room to raise awareness about what the bill covers.
There’s a lot of work to do to educate the public about the dangers of “natural” gas. Polling by ecoAmerica finds that Americans are far less likely to see gas as a polluting energy source than other fossil fuels. While the dangers of burning coal and oil are commonly known, this new poll is the latest of several to show that the public has a lot of misperceptions about gas and its negative impacts.
Advocates should lean into the roles of wind and solar in combating climate change. This week has brought positive headlines about clean energy investment, and polling by ecoAmerica shows that the public continues to overwhelmingly support investments in wind and solar. The media too often applies both-sides framing to the issue of climate action by explaining it as a matter of trade-offs, but advocates can counter this by focusing on the popular things that climate action means more of: more wind energy, more solar energy, and more clean energy jobs.
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
[Energy] 77% of Americans say the United States should be spending more money over the next few years on the research and development of wind and solar energy [ecoAmerica]
[Energy] 76% of Americans recognize that oil contributes to unhealthy air pollution and climate change [ecoAmerica]
[Energy] 73% of Americans recognize that coal contributes to unhealthy air pollution and climate change [ecoAmerica]
[Inflation Reduction Act] Two-thirds of voters (67%) support the Inflation Reduction Act after reading a brief, one-sentence description of it [Navigator]
[Issue Priority] More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single “most important issue” to them than any other issue besides inflation / prices [The Economist + YouGov]
Like other pollsters, Navigator continues to find that there is high and stable support for the Inflation Reduction Act when people hear basic information about what is in it. After reading the following one-sentence description, voters support the bill by a 43-point margin (67% support / 24% oppose):
“As you may know, Biden and Democrats’ new legislation that has been passed by Congress is called the Inflation Reduction Act, which will give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices, bring down health insurance premiums, and invest in clean energy like wind and solar.”
Support for the bill has been steady throughout the past several weeks, as Navigator found that voters supported the bill by a 65%-26% margin in mid-August and a 65%-24% margin in early August.
Navigator has also found that voters have grown increasingly familiar with the Inflation Reduction Act over the past month, though there is still plenty of work to do to educate the public on the bill’s specific impacts. The percentage of voters who have heard at least “some” about the bill now stands at 63% in Navigator’s polling, which is a 12-point increase from early August (51%).
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC)
People who have seen others’ experiences with climate change are more likely to say they’ve changed their opinions about it; learning more about climate change, personally experiencing the impacts, and perceiving social norms are also linked with changes in opinion (Article)
A new paper from the YPCCC, summarized in the article linked above, draws on data from several of their national surveys to find the strongest behavioral, attitudinal, and demographic predictors of people’s self-reported changes in opinion about climate change.
The study finds that the experience of seeing other people impacted by climate change is one of the strongest predictors that someone will change their mind about the issue. In fact, the study found a slightly stronger link for vicarious experiences (seeing others impacted by climate change) than direct experiences (being impacted by climate change oneself).
This indicates that climate advocates can continue to move the needle toward acceptance of climate change by drawing clear links between climate change and the extreme weather events that people are increasingly hearing about in the news.
Learning more about climate change and perceiving social norms about support for climate action are also linked with changes in opinions about the issue. Perceived social norms appear to be especially important in swaying Republican audiences to recognize climate change.
Pulling from the article linked above, with emphasis added in bold:
“Americans are changing their minds about global warming. Public understanding and worry about global warming has grown over the past decade. However, less is known about why Americans are changing their views…
In a preliminary study, we analyzed qualitative data from three nationally representative surveys of the US public. Americans were asked whether they had changed their global warming opinions, and if so, why? The most commonly given reasons included learning more about global warming, seeing or hearing about its effects (vicarious experience), and personally experiencing its effects (direct experience).
We further explored these reasons in a 2018 nationally representative survey of 1,114 US adults and found that nearly half reported that they learned more about global warming (47%) or saw others experience its impacts (46%), while fewer said they had personally experienced its impacts (30%)...
We then tested the extent to which different factors predicted these self-reported changes in global warming opinions… [P]erceived experience with global warming — particularly seeing/hearing others experience its effects (vicarious experience) — emerged as a top correlate. We found similar results even when statistically controlling for other known influences on climate change opinions including perceptions of social norms and attention to partisan-leaning media like Fox News.
Among Republicans, perceived personal experience was one of the strongest predictors of self-reported opinion change, whereas among Democrats, learning more about global warming was among the strongest predictors. Also, among Republicans, perceiving social norms supportive of climate action was especially associated with positive self-reported opinion change…
These results speak to the power of perceived experience with global warming (personal and vicarious), social norms, interpersonal communication, and the media. Although this research is exploratory and uses self-reported cross-sectional data, it suggests that personalizing and localizing the experience of climate impacts, like extreme weather (leveraging experiential learning), as well as enhancing the perceived norm that most people care about the issue and support taking action (leveraging social norms), may be important communication strategies.”
Wind and solar remain Amerians’ most favored energy sources, while support for nuclear energy continues to trend steadily upward; clear majorities blame oil and coal for pollution and climate change, but far fewer blame gas (Article, Report, Topline)
ecoAmerica finds that, despite recent shifts in favor of investment in other types of energy, wind and solar remain by far the most popular domestic energy sources.
When asked whether the United States should be spending more or less on the research and development of various energy sources, the overwhelming majority (77%) say they want more investment in wind and solar. The majority of Americans also support investment in next generation nuclear energy (61% more / 25% less).
Americans are more divided on natural gas (47% more / 38% less), and majorities say they want less investment in coal (27% more / 61% less) and oil (36% more / 55% less).
While this general order of preference for different energy sources has been stable, there have been some notable shifts in ecoAmerica’s polling over the past several years in attitudes toward each type of energy.
For example, the consensus in favor of investing more in wind and solar is lower now (77%) than it was in 2018 (85%). And while still low, the percentages who say they want more investment in oil (36%, up from 26% in 2018) and coal (27%, up from 21% in 2018) have shifted upward in recent years.
These findings are consistent with what we’ve seen in other public polling. Pew, for example, has found that Americans continue to favor renewable energy sources by a wide margin over fossil fuels but that Republicans have become increasingly supportive of fossil fuels since President Biden took office.
ecoAmerica has also measured a steady increase in support for greater investment in next generation nuclear energy (61%, up from 54% in 2018). Over the same time period, the percentage who say that they support nuclear power plants producing electricity for the country has risen by double digits (60%, up from 49% in 2018). Gallup reported on a similar upward trend in support for nuclear energy earlier this year.
In ecoAmerica’s polling, the rising support for nuclear energy is driven in large part by Democrats. As the Democratic electorate has increasingly come to prioritize climate change and party leaders such as President Biden have endorsed nuclear energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions, Democrats appear to be softening in their skepticism about nuclear power.
The percentage of Democrats who support nuclear energy as a domestic electricity source has increased by 21 points in the last four years in ecoAmerica’s polling (58%, up from 37% in 2018). Over that same time period, support for nuclear energy among independents has also increased by double digits (62%, up from 50% in 2018). Meanwhile, Republicans have been steady in their support for nuclear (66%, compared to 64% in 2018) and remain the most pro-nuclear political segment.
Another notable finding from ecoAmerica’s new polling is that Americans are far less likely to see natural gas as a polluting source of energy than other fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
While clear majorities correctly recognize that oil (76%) and coal (73%) contribute at least “some” to unhealthy air pollution and climate change, only half of Americans (50%) recognize that natural gas contributes to these problems.
Other polls have shown a great deal of misunderstanding about natural gas, what it’s composed of, and how much pollution it causes. The term “natural gas” appears to be a big part of the public’s confusion, in that the word “natural” gives people a false sense that the gas being extracted is clean or safe. For that reason, research by the YPCCC and others has indicated that advocates should shift to other terminology such as “methane gas” as much as possible.