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Environmental Polling Roundup – January 19, 2024





This new study by researchers affiliated with C-SEF provides further evidence that voters’ relative trust in Democrats over Republicans to address climate change has benefitted Democrats at the ballot box.

Specifically, the researchers estimate that the issue of climate change cost Republicans 3-4 points in the presidential election in 2020 – enough to likely swing the election result – because so many voters consider climate change to be an important issue and because these voters overwhelmingly supported President Biden in 2020. 

This analysis draws on polling data from the Voter Study Group, which found that roughly two-thirds of 2020 voters (67%) rated climate change as a “somewhat” or “very” important issue and that three-quarters of these voters (77%) supported Biden.

While the survey data doesn’t allow us to infer causality (e.g., whether pro-climate attitudes drove people to vote for Biden or whether Biden supporters modeled their climate attitudes after their preferred candidate and party), it does show that independent voters’ climate attitudes correlate strongly with their vote for president in 2020.

Pulling from the study’s “Main findings”:

U.S. adults trust Democrats more than Republicans on climate change, on average. This issue advantage for the Democrats (26 points, in a recent survey) is one of the largest that either party has on any issue. Average levels of concern about climate change within Congressional districts were strongly negatively correlated with their Republican vote shares, in the 2022 election.

In the Voter Study Group sample, the importance voters assign to climate change as an issue is one of the strongest predictors of voting behavior in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, especially in 2020, and especially among independents. Although it is impossible to definitively identify to what extent this pattern is causal, we consistently estimate an effect of climate change importance on voting across different types of statistical models. Voters who consider climate change to be an important issue made up roughly two-thirds of the electorate in 2020, and these voters strongly preferred the Democrats.

When we simulate the 2020 presidential election with this climate change opinion effect turned off, and everything else equal, the Republicans gain 3.4% or more in the popular vote margin (i.e., Republican vote share minus Democrat vote share).

This newly released polling from Third Way finds that voters overwhelmingly oppose the idea of backing down to China on clean energy. By a commanding 72%-10% margin, voters agree more with a statement that the U.S. can outcompete China on clean energy than a statement that we should accept China’s dominance on clean energy:

Large majorities across party lines – including 77% of Democrats, 70% of independents, and 68% of Republicans – agree more with the statement about the U.S. stepping up and competing with China on clean energy. 

These findings indicate that there is a lot of potential in narratives that frame clean energy investment as patriotic and economically important for the U.S. in the face of China’s efforts to dominate the clean energy future.

Voters already view China as much more of a competitor than a partner in the world economy: when asked which description best fits China in relation to the U.S., the plurality of voters (46%) in Third Way’s poll label China a “competitor”, around one-third (36%) call China an “enemy,” and few categorize China as a “trade partner” (14%) or “ally” (1%).

This new Navigator release provides some useful messaging guidance around the electric vehicle transition. 

In a test of several arguments in support of electric vehicle investment, reducing pollution and health problems like asthma stands out as the most convincing reason for electric vehicle investment overall (61% convincing). Majorities also say that reducing our dependence on foreign countries for oil (57% convincing and helping combat climate change (56%) are convincing reasons for electric vehicle investment. 

Democrats rate these three arguments as similarly convincing, while health and energy independence stand out as the most compelling arguments among independents. Republicans, meanwhile, are relatively more persuaded by the health argument than any other.

Navigator also finds that voters tend to hold positive attitudes about both “electric vehicles” (52% favorable / 41% unfavorable) and “zero-emission vehicles” (55% favorable / 23% unfavorable), though “zero-emission vehicles” inspire far less backlash and polarization.

Compared to “electric vehicles,” Democrats, independents, and Republicans are all equally or more likely to say that they feel favorably about “zero-emission vehicles” and far less likely to say that they feel unfavorably. The differences in voters’ reactions to these terms are particularly stark among independents and Republicans. 

Independents hold slightly more negative than positive views about “electric vehicles” (44% favorable / 49% unfavorable), but are 27 points more likely to say that they feel favorably than unfavorably about “zero-emission vehicles” (45% favorable / 18% unfavorable). 

And while Republicans are nearly twice as likely to have negative than positive opinions of “electric vehicles” (33% favorable / 63% unfavorable), they are much more balanced in their opinions of “zero-emission vehicles” (34% favorable / 41% unfavorable).

Utilizing data from their “Climate Change in the American Mind” study and “Six Americas” segmentation framework, Yale and GMU find that more climate-conscious Americans are both much more likely to recognize existing climate disparities and much more likely to support the goals of climate justice than Americans who are less concerned about global warming. However, even among the segments who are most attuned to the issue of climate change, most are not hearing about “climate justice” as a concept.

Pulling from the linked article, with emphasis added in bold:

“We examine opinions across Global Warming’s Six Americas – a framework for understanding the spectrum of Americans’ attitudes about global warming. The Alarmed and Concerned segments (who make up 56% of the U.S. population) are most likely to think that global warming is happening and are the most worried about it. By contrast, the Doubtful and Dismissive (who make up 23% of the U.S. population) are the least likely to think that global warming is happening and are the least worried about it…

Overall, results show that the audiences that are most worried about climate change are also the most supportive of policies that will advance climate justice. Because most Americans are Alarmed or Concerned (56%) about climate change, this suggests that the potential number of climate justice supporters is substantial.

Despite high levels of support among the Alarmed and Concerned, current awareness of climate justice among these groups is relatively low. Our recent research found similar gaps between awareness of and support for climate justice among adults in the U.S. who are Black, Hispanic/Latino, women, or who have lower incomes. Moreover, most of the Alarmed and many of the Concerned recognize that global warming disproportionately harms people based on income and race, but few recognize that global warming also disproportionately harms women.

Therefore, creating awareness of climate justice concepts and solutions among the Alarmed and Concerned should be a high priority among climate communicators and organizers. One important way to do so is by working with trusted messengers to connect local events to broader concepts of climate justice and injustice. These efforts can broaden the coalition necessary for building public and political will for climate action, and climate justice.

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