Most Americans want the government to combat climate change, some willing to pay a high amount

14 Oct 2017


Sixty-one per cent of Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address, including 43 per cent of Republicans and 80 per cent of Democrats, according to a new survey from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Those numbers are even higher when only those who believe in climate change are asked. Seven in 10 Republicans and nearly all Democrats who believe climate change is happening think the government needs to take action. When asked about key climate policy decisions, the largest shares of Americans say they oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

While many Americans favour policies that would help the country lower emissions, questions on how much they would personally be willing to pay to confront climate change (in the form of a monthly fee on their electric bill) reveal great disparity. While half are unwilling to pay even one dollar, 18 per cent are willing to pay at least $100 per month.

"These results put the polarised climate debate in sharp relief, but also point to the possibility of a path forward," says Michael Greenstone, director of EPIC and the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College, and the Harris School at the University of Chicago. "Although half of households said they were unwilling to pay anything for a carbon policy in their monthly electricity bills, on average Americans would pay about $30 per month, as a meaningful share of households report that they are willing to pay a substantial amount. What is particularly striking is that it's projected to cost less than $30 per person to pay for climate damages from the electricity sector. So, while the raw economics appears to be less and less of a problem, the open question is whether it is feasible to devise a robust climate policy that accommodates these very divergent viewpoints."

The survey also reveals new insights into how Americans view hydraulic fracturing. The number of people who say they favour fracking, more than doubles when presented with evidence that it will save them money, while fewer change their opinion on fracking when presented with environmental or health arguments. Specifically, Americans' support for fracking jumps from 17 per cent to 41 per cent when presented with evidence that it will save them $250 annually on their personal natural gas bill. Meanwhile, the 41 per cent who initially said they opposed fracking increased to 51 percent and 58 percent, respectively, when presented with health and environmental arguments against it.

"Public opinion around many energy issues tends to be fluid, with people often defaulting to partisan starting points. But this survey shows an opportunity for consensus building through discussion and debate," says Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree that climate change is happening, and there are signs that consensus could happen on other issues, too."

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • Seventy-two per cent of Americans believe climate change is happening, including 85 per cent of Democrats and 61 per cent of Republicans. Nineteen per cent remain unsure.
  • Political party and belief in climate change are the main determinants of whether people are willing to pay a modest fee to combat climate change, as opposed to education, income, or geographic location. Democrats are consistently willing to pay more than Republicans.
  • Fifty-seven per cent support actions taken by some mayors and governors to honour the goals of the Paris climate agreement despite US withdrawal, and 55 per cent think their state and local government should do more to address climate change. A third say they should stick to the status quo.
  • Climate change and energy policy are very or extremely important to 48 per cent and 54 per cent of Americans, respectively, while at least two-thirds say health care, the economy, and terrorism are important policy priorities.
  • Thirty-five per cent oppose the direction of energy policy in the United States, while 45 per cent lack an opinion and only 17 per cent support the direction. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to favour the direction of energy policy, but they are most likely to lack an opinion.
  • Roughly equal shares of Americans favour, oppose, and neither favour nor oppose the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.
  • Forty per cent of Americans oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is reviewing. Thirty-seven per cent lack an opinion, while just 20 per cent favour its repeal.
  • More Americans lack an opinion on the use of fracking in the United States than support it: 37 per cent neither favour nor oppose fracking, 17 per cent favour it, and 41 per cent oppose it.
  • An equal number of Americans either support or lack an opinion on the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, while the largest number opposes withdrawal: 42 per cent oppose it, 28 per cent support it, and 28 per cent neither support nor oppose withdrawal. Half of those who support withdrawal say the agreement was too costly for the United States.

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