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Environmental Polling Roundup – September 24th, 2021





Yahoo + YouGov – Americans support Biden’s “$3.5 trillion infrastructure plan” by double digits, and a plurality support using the budget reconciliation process to overcome a Republican filibuster (ToplineCrosstabs)

This new national tracking poll from Yahoo and YouGov asked respondents about the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget using the following language: 

President Biden wants Congress to pass a $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan that would do more to address climate change while also supporting working families with childcare subsidies, national paid family leave and universal pre-K. Do you favor or oppose this plan?”

The poll found that the proposal falls just short of majority support, but support still exceeds opposition by a margin of 15 points (48% favor / 33% oppose / 19% not sure).

This roundup is going to include a lot of differing data points about the Build Back Better budget so I’m re-upping these evergreen findings from polling on the Build Back Better budget / reconciliation bill:

  1. The more specific policy elements that are included in the description of the bill, the more positively voters tend to respond to it
  2. Mentioning the bill’s climate and/or clean energy focus tends to have a positive impact on support
  3. The price tag does not seem to have a major impact on support
  4. Partisan framing (describing the bill as a proposal by Biden and/or Democrats) tends to have a negative impact on support by moving Republican voters against the idea and making it closer to a 50/50 proposition overall; Democratic voters overwhelmingly support it with or without partisan framing

One encouraging finding from the Yahoo/YouGov crosstabs is that support for the proposal among Democrats (79% favor / 9% oppose) exceeds opposition from Republicans (19% favor / 68% oppose), demonstrating that Democrats care more about passing the $3.5 trillion package than Republicans care about blocking it.

The poll also asked a procedural question about the reconciliation process, telling respondents that “Republicans are likely to filibuster Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan” and then gauging whether respondents support or oppose “the U.S. Senate using budget reconciliation to avoid a filibuster and pass Biden’s plan on a simple majority vote.” 

The response to the reconciliation idea is more mixed, with 39% in favor, 31% against, and a large chunk (30%) not sure. I’d normally advise against paying much attention to poll questions like this, because voters in the real world pay very little attention to legislative process, but the differences by party are interesting.

When you compare support for the Build Back Better plan in this poll to support for passing it through budget reconciliation, the biggest drop-off is actually among Democrats (79% favor the proposal -> 67% favor using reconciliation) rather than independents (42% favor the proposal -> 34% favor using reconciliation) or Republicans (19% favor the proposal -> 18% favor using reconciliation). In other words, the voting constituency that has the greatest reservations about using budget reconciliation to pass the Build Back Better plan – Democratic voters – overwhelmingly supports passing the bill.

And if all other previous legislative fights are any indication, feelings about the substance of the bill will far outweigh and outlast any feelings about how it gets passed.

POLITICO + Morning Consult – Voters widely support tax breaks for renewable energy in the reconciliation bill, even when it’s framed as a Democratic proposal (ToplineCrosstabs)

POLITICO and Morning Consult also asked a series of questions related to the reconciliation bill, though they framed most of them as questions about “House Democrats’ tax plan” – a description that certainly doesn’t do the bill any favors. 

Despite that unfavorable framing, however, they found that voters widely support most of the tax provisions that were presented as part of the “House Democrats’ tax plan.” These include:

It’s worth noting that each of these policies was presented without information about how the revenues would be spent, underlining that voters support the ideas of raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations as general principles. Concisely explaining how the reconciliation bill is paid for – by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big corporations – can therefore be very helpful in boosting support for the package.

The high support behind tax breaks for renewable energy here is driven by Democratic voters (76% support / 13% oppose), though it’s worth noting that independent voters support it by a two-to-one margin (55% support /27% oppose) and the idea is also slightly above water among Republicans (46% support / 42% oppose).

Data for Progress + Invest in America – Voters support the Build Back Better plan by a two-to-one margin after reading an explanation of its components; grid modernization continues to be one of the plan’s most popular provisions (ReleaseTopline)

Data for Progress and Invest in America have been tracking support for the reconciliation bill using a consistent explanation (pasted below) and find that voters now support it by a 62%-30% margin. This indicates essentially no change in attitudes about the substance of the bill since mid-August, when a Data for Progress and Invest in America poll found that voters supported it by a near-identical 62%-31% margin.

“Some lawmakers in Congress are proposing a $3.5 trillion investment plan that does the following: 

To pass it would require the use of a non-standard procedure called “reconciliation” that allows legislation to pass the Senate with a simple majority. Do you support or oppose this investment plan?”

Another area of consistency in the Data for Progress + Invest in America tracking is the durably overwhelming support for grid modernization as part of the reconciliation bill. Their new poll finds that voters support “modernizing the electric grid, improving reliability, and funding new research” by a 74%-16% margin, which again is essentially unchanged from mid-August (76% support / 17% oppose).

One of the factors behind grid modernization’s popularity is that it is probably the least politically polarizing of the reconciliation bill’s major energy-related provisions: in the Data for Progress / Invest in America data, the grid modernization provision has overwhelming support among Democrats (83%-5%), independents (70%-18%), and Republicans (65%-25%).

LCV + Climate Power – Majorities of voters across Democratic-held U.S. Senate battleground states (AZ, CO, GA, NH + NV) support the Build Back Better plan after a brief description, and majorities also reject the idea of trimming the bill down; top messages focus on jobs, pollution/health, and lowering utility bills (DeckMemoAZ ToplineCO ToplineGA ToplineNH ToplineNV Topline)

LCV and Climate Power have some timely data on how the Build Back Better plan plays in battleground states that Democrats are trying to protect at the U.S. Senate level in 2022. 

They find majority support for the proposal in every state polled after reading respondents a description that includes the major components and $3.5 trillion dollar price tag, with support ranging from an 18-point margin in New Hampshire (56% support / 38% oppose) to a 35-point margin in Georgia (64% support / 29% oppose).

In each state, they also find that 60%+ of voters want their Senators to vote in favor of the legislation. And, when presented with balanced arguments about the level of funding in the proposal, 55%-61% across states want to see the plan’s price tag maintained or increased rather than pared back.

The poll release also includes a lot findings that are instructive for persuasive communications about the reconciliation bill, including measurements of support for its specific climate-related provisions. These tests show that investments in clean energy and energy efficiency are especially popular components of the plan:

Message testing in the poll found that arguments about job creation, health and pollution, and lowering utility bills are particularly convincing. Pulling from the deck’s “Key Findings” slide:

Advocates should continue to emphasize the benefits of the legislation in creating good-paying jobs and dealing with the threat of climate change. Among swing voters, two other messages are important to communicate about the legislation:

-It will protect Americans’ health by cutting dangerous and toxic pollution in our air and water.

-It will lower utility bills and energy costs, making life more affordable for middle-class and working families.

Navigator – Climate is rising as a national priority; two in five voters say that weather in their community this summer has been different from past years, and most who have experienced unusual weather cite climate change as the reason (ReleaseDeckTopline)

Navigator regularly asks respondents what they believe should be President Biden and Congress’s top four issue priorities, and climate change and extreme weather (30%) is now clearly in the second tier of issues behind the coronavirus pandemic (57%) and jobs and the economy (51%). This puts climate roughly on par with issues including the situation in Afghanistan (35%), national security (33%), health care (31%), and immigration (29%).

Climate change and extreme weather has risen steadily as a priority for voters in Navigator’s recent tracking, increasing by five points in the last two weeks (from 25%) and by 13 points since late June (17%). There are probably a few factors behind this, including seasonal variations in attitudes about climate change and extreme weather, the recent spate of severe weather events throughout the country, and the fact that there is major climate legislation being considered in Congress right now. 

Other data points in the Navigator poll illustrate how voters are feeling impacted by extreme weather events. Two in five voters (41%) say that this summer’s weather in their community has been different from years past and, among these voters, hotter weather (76%) is by far the most widely observed change. The next most cited examples of unusual weather are more droughts (44%), more wildfires (43%), and more flooding (38%).

Voters who report experiencing unusual weather also overwhelmingly believe that these changes are mostly due to temperatures rising as a result of climate change (65%) rather than natural weather patterns (17%). This is the dominant belief among both Democratic voters (82% climate change / 5% natural patterns) and independent voters (66% climate change / 11% natural patterns), though Republican voters who have experienced unusual weather are more split in what they attribute it to (35% climate change / 39% natural patterns).

Data for Progress – “Green jobs” are a confusing concept for voters (Memo)

This newly released memo from Data for Progress provides a good example of how terms used regularly by advocates can lose their meaning with wider audiences.

In an online survey, Data for Progress showed respondents several images of people involved in different types of work and asked respondents to indicate whether each image showed a “green” job. There was no clear consensus on what constitutes a green job, as the only image selected by a majority of respondents as depicting a “green” job showed workers installing solar panels (67%) – and even then, about one-third (33%) didn’t identify this as a green job. 

When shown technicians on a wind turbine farm – one of the most common examples of a “green job” put forth by advocates – respondents were split down the middle (50% yes/50% no) in identifying it as a “green job.” 

All of this is to say that there is no consensus definition for everyday Americans on what a “green job” is. Other polling has shown that voters respond more positively to the term “clean” than “green” in describing technology and jobs, so you’re probably best off avoiding the term “green jobs” in your communications to prevent confusion or backlash.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – Moderates have similar reactions to “climate change” and “extreme weather” as the rationale for emergency preparedness actions and policies, but there are benefits to using “extreme weather” with conservative audiences (Article)

More language findings here, as the YPCCC conducted an experiment where they asked half of a poll sample about actions to prepare for “extreme weather” and asked the other half about actions to prepare for “climate change.” Here’s the rationale for the experiment, pulled from the article:

“The summer of 2021 alone has included record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest, flooding in the Midwest, hurricanes in the South, and drought and fires in the West and Southwest United States, in addition to catastrophic fires and floods happening around the world. As a result, climate change preparedness is growing in importance.

However, in the United States, political conservatives sometimes respond negatively to messages that link an event to climate change, even during an emergency. As a result, organizations such as the American Meteorological Society have recommended avoiding the term “climate change” during emergency events and using terms like “extreme weather” instead. Avoiding the term “climate change,” however, may lead people to focus on the symptoms rather than the causes of climate change, thus supporting immediate actions but ignoring and potentially worsening the underlying problem.”

And here’s what YPCCC found in their experiment (my emphasis added in bold):

For a politically liberal audience, using the term “climate change” is generally not harmful and can even be beneficial, as in the case of supporting collective actions. Communicators who want to engage liberals will likely find support for many preparedness actions and policies when using the term “climate change.” 

For an audience of political moderates, using the term “climate change” appears to have little effect, positive or negative, compared with the term “extreme weather,” and is unlikely to be harmful. For personal protective behaviors, infrastructure protections, and planning policies, moderates supported these actions at comparable levels to liberals regardless of the term used. 

For an audience of conservatives, using the term “climate change” is riskier. Conservatives’ lower willingness to take personal protective actions in the “climate change” group versus the “extreme weather” group is important, because these actions include potentially life-saving behaviors like having an emergency kit. However, conservative support for many preparedness policies remained high, even when they were described in terms of “climate change.” Therefore, when describing some preparedness policies, “climate change” may be acceptable, but in general, using “extreme weather” is likely to be a slightly safer option when engaging with a conservative audience.

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