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Environmental Polling Roundup – February 9, 2024





We’ve seen a small amount of polling on ESG in the past, including research by Climate Power and Data for Progress last year that indicated that advocates should re-brand “ESG” as “responsible investing.”

That’s the approach that Unlocking America’s Future and Data for Progress took in this new poll, and they find that voters across party lines support the idea of “responsible investing” that considers environmental, social, and governance issues once they learn about it. 

Just over seven in ten voters (71%) – including majorities of Democrats (80%), independents (69%), and Republicans (64%) – say that they support “responsible investing” based on the description below.

“Responsible investing involves considering environmental, social, and governance issues when making investment decisions.

Investors and people saving for retirement can practice responsible investing by choosing to invest in companies which consider these factors. Business owners and decision makers like CEOs can also practice responsible investment by ensuring their company considers these factors when making business decisions.”

Majorities also support the proposed SEC rule to require disclosure of climate-related financial risks when they learn about the rule. Voters support the new rule by a greater than three-to-one margin (66% support / 21% oppose) after reading the description below, and it also attracts majority support from Democrats (80%), independents (65%), and Republicans (55%).

“The federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently proposed a rule requiring some businesses to include information about potential climate-related financial risks in their financial reporting statements. These statements are used by investors and potential investors to understand risks to the company’s financial health. 

When announcing this proposal, the Chair of the SEC stated that the intent of the rule was: ‘to provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions.’”

The notion that disclosure of climate-related financial risks will allow families, businesses, and other investors to make better and more informed decisions is an important one. Since critics of ESG try to paint it as a restrictive measure to limit investors’ choices, it’s important to clarify that this new SEC rule is actually about increasing the amount of information available to investors.

This is borne out in a split-sample messaging experiment in the poll. When presented with different arguments against a standard opposition message about disclosure of climate-related financial risks (“a requirement to release information about climate-related financial risks is an overreach that will impose costs on businesses across the economy and result in a flood of useless information”), the most persuasive message in favor of requiring climate-related financial risk disclosure is that it will lead to more informed investment decisions.

Below are the positive messages that were tested in the poll, along with the margins by which voters sided with each of these positive arguments over the opposition statement.

The poll also finds that, while the “responsible investing” branding is more broadly appealing, “ESG” as a term isn’t toxic. Voters have overwhelmingly favorable reactions to the term “responsible investing” (75% favorable / 6% unfavorable), but are also much more likely to react positively than negatively to the term “Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing” (50% favorable / 21% unfavorable).

Even among Republicans, who have been the target of the anti-ESG campaign in right-wing media, attitudes about ESG are slightly more positive than negative (37% favorable / 32% unfavorable). 

The poll indicates that the anti-ESG campaign is failing to break through to the mainstream. Roughly two in five voters (41%) say they haven’t read or heard about ESG investing, while 40% have heard neutral information about it and 10% have heard mostly positive information about it. Meanwhile, only 9% of voters – including just 13% of Republicans – have heard “mostly negative” information about ESG investing.

As this data shows, ESG is not the bogeyman that its opponents have tried to turn it into. Most everyday people are just trying to get on with their lives, blissfully unaware of manufactured controversies about ESG. And in a balanced debate about the virtues of ESG/responsible investing, ESG advocates win

Environmental advocates therefore shouldn’t be afraid to engage in a debate about ESG, and should respond to misinformation about it by educating the public about the virtues of responsible investing policies that will allow people to make more informed decisions for their retirement and financial planning.

This newly released polling from Turn Forward and Climate Nexus finds that the Americans who would be most affected by offshore wind expansion overwhelmingly support it

Surveying Americans who live in coastal counties, they find that these Americans have overwhelmingly positive attitudes about offshore wind and its expansion – including in their own areas:

These positive opinions of offshore wind are rooted in beliefs that it is good for U.S. energy independence, the economy, consumers, and public health as well as the climate. On nearly every dimension asked about in the poll, Americans in coastal counties believe that expanding offshore wind will have much more of a positive than negative impact:

As this data shows, increased U.S. energy independence stands out as the clearest benefit of offshore wind expansion for coastal Americans. This is consistent with lots of recent polling that we’ve seen, as energy independence has grown into a very strong rationale for clean energy expansion.

On the flip side, impacts on wildlife are the clearest concern about offshore wind. In fact, possible harms to wildlife are the only significant concern that respondents in the poll reported about offshore wind. Nearly three in ten (29%) said that expanded offshore wind would have a negative impact on wildlife, while fewer than 10% said that it would have a negative impact on any other dimension.

We’ve seen other research that indicates that clean energy advocates should tackle misinformation about the impact of offshore wind farms on whales head-on, using trusted, third-party validators such as ocean scientists to clarify that there is no evidence linking offshore wind to whale deaths.

In addition to ESG, Data for Progress recently conducted polling on another frequent target of right-wing media fearmongering: the Green New Deal.

As with ESG, they find that the Green New Deal brand is not toxic and that large majorities of voters can be persuaded to support a Green New Deal when they learn basic information about it.

Specifically, they find that nearly two-thirds of voters (65%) – including majorities of Democrats (85%) and independents (64%), as well as a plurality of Republicans (45%) – support a Green New Deal when provided with the information below.

“Some lawmakers are reintroducing the Green New Deal, a proposal modeled off of the ‘New Deal’ programs created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. 

A Green New Deal would put tens of millions of people to work in good-paying, union jobs modernizing our infrastructure making it more resilient to extreme weather and slowing the pace of climate change. The Green New Deal would also center frontline communities who have been disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution in decision- making and resource allocation.

Just as with ESG, we can see that there is broad support for the Green New Deal when voters see the actual policy behind it and not just the caricature created by its opponents.

This finding is consistent with past polling by Data for Progress, which also found clear majority support for the Green New Deal in 2021 when voters saw the same description of it.

Support for the Green New Deal also stands up to scrutiny. When presented with the competing statements for and against the Green New Deal below, voters side more with supporters than opponents of the Green New Deal by a nearly two-to-one margin (59%-31%):

The poll also suggests that lawmakers, like environmental advocates, shouldn’t be afraid to lean into the Green New Deal. By roughly two-to-one margins, voters say that they support their member of Congress cosponsoring the Green New Deal when it is reintroduced in Congress (62% support / 26% oppose) and say that they would be more likely to vote to reelect their member of Congress if they cosponsor the Green New Deal (57% more likely / 28% less likely).

In addition to the core Green New Deal proposal, Data for Progress also finds majority support for related proposals for education, cities/infrastructure, public housing, and health after voters read paragraph-long descriptions of each:

One of the strange aspects of polling on EVs, which are consistently one of the most consistently polarizing topics in the clean energy transition, is that Democrats and Republicans tend to agree more often than not about the main benefits and drawbacks of EVs. However, partisans still show dramatically different levels of interest in purchasing EVs.

In this new survey of Americans with household incomes of $50,000 or more (intended to approximate the market for new cars in the U.S.), Democrats and Republicans have very similar answers when asked to name their two greatest concerns about owning an electric vehicle. Below are the top three concerns for each group:

The one notable difference on this question is that Republicans (29%) are more likely than Democrats (17%) to express concerns that EV batteries are from China or bad for the environment, though the difference here isn’t huge and battery sourcing doesn’t rank among the top concerns for either group.

In terms of the strongest rationales in favor of purchasing an electric vehicle, Democrats and Republicans also agree that never having to pay for gas is a top benefit. There is a notable difference, however, in partisans’ ranking of the environmental benefits – which are a top-tier rationale for Democrats but a second-tier rationale for Republicans. 

Here are the top rationales for each group when they are asked to name the two best reasons to own an EV:

Still, despite all these areas of agreement, Democrats (39%) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (17%) to say that they are seriously interested in buying an EV in the next year or two. Additionally, more than two in five Republicans (44%, compared to 26% of Democrats) say that they will probably never buy an EV.

There is one data point in the poll that probably explains more than any other why interest in EVs lags among Republicans: the majority of Republicans (59%) agree that “EVs are for people who see the world differently than I do.” By comparison, only 25% of Democrats agree with this statement.

From a consumer perspective, polls consistently show that there are clear benefits to lean into (saving money on fuel and maintenance) and clear concerns to address (upfront costs, range, and convenience) when making a pitch for EVs to the public. Democrats and Republicans generally share this same set of rationales for and against buying EVs, with the notable exception that Democrats are far more likely to care about the climate and environmental benefits of EVs.

However, research also shows time and time again that Republicans do not view EVs from the perspective of rational consumers. EV ownership has become a cultural signifier, and most Republicans say that it signifies a culture that they aren’t a part of. 

This calls for EV advocates to think about EV messaging to conservatives as a way to ease cultural concerns, not just to relay facts. It’s important for Republicans to learn about affordable EV models and the rapid increase in charging stations, but it is even more important for conservatives to see EVs as a choice that is compatible with their worldview. 

We therefore encourage more research into culture-based appeals for EVs that resonate with conservatives, such as framing EVs around U.S. energy independence, reviving the U.S. manufacturing sector, and restoring the U.S. auto industry to its former glory.

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