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Poll Shows Americans Support Global Warming Action

The most recent opinion poll on climate change attitudes shows that the public may be more aware of climate issues than many think.  Support for international treaties to limit greenhouse gas emissions approaches 80%.  While 60% of respondents believe the government should be doing more regarding global warming.  Only 10% of those surveyed believed the government was doing much to stem the adverse influence of global warming.

This poll represents a collaborative effort of ABC News, Stanford University’s Political Psychology Research Group, and the environmental think tank, Resources for the Future.  This study extends twenty years of opinion data regarding attitudes on global warming.

To us this polling data revealed three concerns.  First acknowledgement of a general global warming trend and its potential adverse consequences.  Second, profound concern that these efforts, no matter how well intentioned, would raise prices on gasoline and electricity.  Third, public confidence in government efforts to check the advance of global warming was also quite low at 20%.

For political leaders this is an interesting dilemma.  Global warming is an issue acknowledged by the majority of the citizenry that no one wants to pay for via direct taxes or conservation.  In addition, public confidence in potential governmental climate remedies is quite low.  Only 19% of respondents were “very confident” that government efforts would actually reduce global warming.  This lack of confidence also contributes to an absence of urgency.

Public support was high, 68% in favor, of taxing corporations based on their level of greenhouse gas emissions.  Support was even greater for taxes on all imported fuels.  Tax breaks for renewables are also very popular.

Perhaps most interesting was a bipartisan agreement critical of the oil industry.  The majority believing the industry had aggressively covered up its connection to global warming trends.

In the electric utility area, respondents by a slight majority (51%) expressed a preference for power plants reducing emissions of GHGs and public support for renewables in general remains high.

Political partisanship plays a large role in beliefs about climate change.  Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to believe that the government should do something and that global warming is a “very serious” problem.  Young people take the issue more seriously than older people, as do non-whites vs whites and non-religious vs white evangelical Protestants.

This survey has collected data since 1997.  Popular belief in the existence of global warming has barely changed over that entire period.  Three quarters of those surveyed have consistently believed in the phenomenon this entire period.

Politicians have been behind their constituents on this issue.  But subsidies for cleanup of manufacturing processes, coal plant scrubbers and for renewables are the easiest measures to support.  Smokestack industries would get a temporary reprieve.

In sum, the vast majority of Americans agree global warming is an issue and a problem.  But a majority also expressed low confidence in proposed government solutions.  And this lack of confidence in potential government climate solutions may help explain some of the absence of urgency in climate related issues.

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