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Environmental Polling Roundup – April 12, 2024





Every once in a while, a poll finds that climate change (or some other issue) garners a low percentage in a poll’s “most important issue” question and the data point is seized on – typically in cynical and misleading fashion – as purported evidence that voters don’t care about the issue.

Here, the Wall Street Journal claims in their headline that “voters don’t care” that “Biden is spending $1 trillion to fight climate change.” The evidence that they present is one poll that the Wall Street Journal commissioned last month of swing state voters. Pulling from the article:

“A Journal poll, which surveyed voters in seven swing states in March, found that just 3% of 18-to-34-year-old voters named climate change as their top issue, with most citing the economy, inflation or immigration. That is roughly in line with voters of all ages, 2% of whom cited climate change as their top issue.”

The March poll that they link to doesn’t actually show a question asking voters their most important issue (they may have held on releasing the data for this story), but a February Wall Street Journal poll similarly found that only 2% of voters nationwide named climate change as their top issue in the 2024 presidential election.

A couple of important pieces of context for interpreting this type of “most important issue” question in a poll:

  1. “Most important issue” questions usually find that low percentages of voters name any individual issue as their most important. In the February WSJ poll, for example, the only issues that double-digit percentages of voters named as their most important were immigration (20%) and the economy (14%). Inflation, which has consistently been one of the dominant issues this election cycle, only garnered 5%. Meanwhile, taxes (2%) and health care (1%) ranked on par or lower than climate change (2%). The Wall Street Journal, of course, would be unlikely to use that data to support an article claiming that voters don’t care about taxes.
  2. Open-ended questions that ask people to name their most important issue, rather than choose it from a list, are particularly volatile and subjective. WSJ polls use this open-ended approach and, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it leaves a lot to subjective categorization and coding. There’s plainly a lot of potential overlap between issues like the economy and inflation, which the WSJ codes as separate responses. And in the WSJ’s February poll, more people responded with uncategorized “other” issues (9%) than any named issue other than immigration and the economy. 

A national poll released this week by The Economist and YouGov provides an example where respondents are asked to choose their “most important issue” from a list, rather than naming it in their own words. In the Economist/YouGov data, “climate change and the environment” ranks as Americans’ fifth-most prioritized issue (8%) behind inflation/prices (21%) and immigration (14%) and only slightly behind health care (10%) and jobs and the economy (10%). These findings are very different from the WSJ data, and show how “most important issue” questions can yield very different results depending on how they’re asked. 

It’s important, therefore, not to infer too much into any one poll or data point when it comes to voters’ top priorities. 

As for the WSJ’s claim that voters don’t care about Biden’s climate actions, we have plenty of data – including from recent WSJ polling – that shows that voters strongly support climate action. The February Wall Street Journal poll asked about nine different issue proposals related to the presidential election – such as extending the Trump tax cuts, forgiving student loan debt, and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. In their poll, “taking urgent action to address climate change” (59% favor, including 41% who “strongly” favor it) was the single most popular policy proposal that they asked about. 

We’ve also seen lots of polling that shows that voters are largely unaware of Biden’s climate actions, but widely support them after learning about them. Yale and GMU, for example, found last year that most voters had heard little or nothing about the IRA but that 71% came to support it after reading a description of it. 

And in January, Climate Power found that the presidential race shifts 10 points in Biden’s favor in battleground states – from Trump +5 to Biden +5 – after voters are exposed to messaging that contrasts Biden and Trump on climate change and clean energy. Young voters aged 18-29 are particularly moved by this messaging, as they become 13 points more likely to support Biden after seeing it.

Further demonstrating the resonance of climate change with young Americans, this recently released polling from the Climate Action Campaign of Americans aged 18-29 finds that climate change ranks as a top-tier issue concern for this audience. Pulling from their public memo:

Climate is of high importance to young Americans, with nearly two-thirds rating it as a very important issue (63%). While this is below inflation (82%), it is on par with abortion (65%), and above issues like the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (58%) and student loan debt (53%). Black youth (71%) and 18–22-year-olds (65%) are even more likely to prioritize climate change than young Americans overall.”

The poll also finds that majorities of young Americans say that they feel “more favorable” to President Biden in response to hearing about his top climate and clean energy accomplishments, including the following:

The Climate Action Campaign also finds that messaging about extreme weather is particularly effective at motivating young Americans to take action on climate change. From the memo:

Highlighting how extreme weather will worsen until we take urgent action on climate change is the most effective climate change message with young Americans. This was the clear top message with young Americans overall and across key audiences, including those who become willing to take action on climate change post-messaging and those who are less motivated to vote this year.

Messages on how clean energy can help lower energy costs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil are also effective. While the extreme weather message should be our core message, these messages can help broaden our coalition by highlighting additional benefits of clean energy, such as lower costs – young adults’ top issue priority – and American energy independence.”

The memo also provides the full wording of these three top-testing messages, as follows:

Gallup finds that 7% of Americans now report owning an electric vehicle, up three points from last March (4%). The percentage who are “seriously considering” buying an EV has dipped by an equivalent amount, from 12% down to 9%. Taken together, these two shifts suggest that there is a steady share of the population – roughly one-sixth of adults – who either own or are seriously in the market for an EV. 

Meanwhile, around one-third (35%) say that they “might” consider an EV and nearly half (48%) say that they “would not buy” an electric vehicle. The percentage who say that they “would not buy” an EV has increased by seven points since last year (from 41%).

From the Gallup data, it’s difficult to discern why a rising share of Americans appear to be ruling out EVs. Compared to Gallup’s data from a year ago, the “would not buy” percentage has increased across a wide variety of demographic and political subgroups. The shift also does not appear to be driven by increased political polarization: roughly seven in ten Republicans (69%) now say that they “would not buy” an EV, which is essentially the same as what Gallup found last year (71%).

Still, EV interest is shaped by political attitudes as much or more than socioeconomic factors such as age and income. Gallup finds that liberals (27%), Democrats (24%), and those with incomes of $100,000+ (25%) are the most likely to say that they either own or are “seriously” considering an EV. Conversely, Republicans (69%) and conservatives (72%) are more likely than any major demographic or income group to say that they would not buy an EV.

Following the SEC’s recent finalization of a new rule for climate-related risk disclosures from public companies, this new national polling by Unlocking America’s Future and Morning Consult finds that voters agree with both the spirit and the specifics of the SEC’s new climate risk disclosure rule.

As we consistently see in polling, voters say that large companies and corporations should be held accountable for their environmental impacts: four in five (80%) say that large companies and corporations have a responsibility to manage their impact on the environment, including nearly half (46%) who say that companies have “a lot” of responsibility for managing environmental impacts. 

Voters also widely agree that people should be able to take climate-related risks into account when making investment decisions. After reading the description of ESG investing below, voters support “investors and people saving for retirement having the ability to participate in an investment strategy that considers climate-related risks” by a 61%-17% margin.

The poll used the following description of ESG investing for this question: “As you may know, some investors and people saving for retirement want to consider the impacts of climate-related risks, such as flooding, extreme weather, or wildfires, when making investment decisions. Investors and people saving for retirement can practice this approach to investing by choosing to invest in companies that consider these factors in their decision making. If you belong to a pension plan or have a retirement plan, your fund manager might already be considering taking these factors into account when investing your savings.”

Despite the extensive fear-mongering about ESG by opponents of climate action, we can see in this data that anti-ESG campaigns have gained little traction with the public. Very few voters object to the idea that people should be able to take climate risks into account in their financial decisions if they want to. 

Polling shows that it’s helpful to explain ESG in this frame of providing investors with more information to help them make better investment decisions. This strikes voters as a common sense idea and puts the onus on the anti-ESG side to explain why investors should be provided with less transparency or be restricted in the types of risks that they can protect themselves from. 

As for climate risk disclosure requirements, the poll finds that voters across the political spectrum agree that the federal government should “require publicly traded companies and large corporations to publicly disclose data about their climate-related risks.” Voters agree with this idea by an overwhelming 71%-16% margin, and it has majority backing from Democrats (85%), independents (66%), and Republicans (60%).

When provided with more specifics about the SEC’s new rule, voters support the new SEC climate risk disclosure rule by a four-to-one margin (63% support / 15% oppose).

The poll used the following description of the SEC’s new rule: “As you may know, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently approved a new climate risk disclosure rule requiring publicly traded companies and large corporations to release information about their climate-related risks. The rule aims to provide investors and people saving for retirement with useful information to help them make their investment decisions.”

When presented in this way, the SEC’s climate risk disclosure rule earns majority support from Democrats (81%) and independents (61%) and also attracts more support than opposition from Republicans (48% support / 26% oppose).

Importantly, voters widely agree that the SEC’s new climate risk disclosure rule will provide greater transparency and stop companies from hiding financial risks while also helping to address climate change. Majorities agree with each of the following statements about the new rule after seeing a description of it:

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