WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump gets some of his worst marks from the American people when it comes to his handling of climate change, and majorities believe the planet is warming and support government actions that he has sometimes scoffed at.
While the administration has rolled back regulations to cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from power and industrial plants and pushed for more coal use, wide shares of Americans say they want just the opposite, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
About two out of three Americans say corporations have a responsibility to combat climate change, and a similar share also say it’s the job of the U.S. government.
But 64% of Americans say they disapprove of Trump’s policies toward climate change while about half that many (32%) say they approve.
Ann Florence, a 70-year-old retiree and self-described independent from Jonesborough, Tennessee, said she faults Trump on climate change “because he doesn’t believe it’s happening. It is changing if he would just look at what’s happening.”
While a majority of Republicans do approve of Trump’s performance on climate change, his marks among the GOP on the issue are slightly lower compared with other issues. Meanwhile, 7% of Democrats and 29% of independents approve of Trump on climate change.
Ricky Kendrick, a 30-year-old in Grand Junction, Colorado, said he is contemplating leaving the Republican Party, partly over its denial of climate change.
“They don’t see it as a priority at all,” Kendrick, a hardware salesman in the heart of western Colorado’s energy belt, complained of the president and his party. “There are some (weather) things happening that I’ve never seen before. … Something’s changing.”
He was alarmed at Trump’s departure from the Paris climate accord and wants the U.S. to reduce offshore drilling, end subsidies for fossil fuels and ramp up those for renewable energy.
While the poll finds about half of Americans want to decrease or eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels, a similar share say subsidies for renewable energy should be increased.
But will Trump’s climate change denial – often voiced in tweets – matter in 2020?
“Climate has not historically been what people vote on, but I think the tides are changing on that,” said University of Maryland sociologist Dana Fisher, who studies the environmental movement.
She said her research shows that young people, who don’t vote in large numbers, are activated by climate change.
Climate change is becoming more of a national priority among Democrats but not Republicans, said Tony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. It might make a difference in a close race, he said.
According to the AP VoteCast survey, 7% of voters in the 2018 midterm election called the environment the top issue facing the country. By contrast, 26% said health care was the top issue, 23% said immigration and 18% said the economy and jobs. Democratic voters were far more likely than Republican voters to call the environment the top issue, 12% to 2%.
In the new poll, roughly three out of four Americans say they believe climate change is happening and a large majority of those think humans are at least partly to blame. In total, 47% of all Americans say they think climate change is happening and is caused mostly or entirely by human activities; 20% think it’s caused about equally by human activities and natural changes in the environment; and 8% think it’s happening but is caused mostly or entirely by natural changes in the environment.
There’s a large gap between partisans on the issue. 92% of Democrats say climate change is happening, and nearly all of those think it’s caused at least equally by human activity and natural changes in the environment. While more than half of Republicans, 56%, say they think climate change is happening, only 41% think human activities are a factor.
Americans are slightly more likely to favour taxing the use of carbon-based fuels than to oppose it, 37% to 31%. If that revenue is turned into a tax rebate to all Americans, approval ticks up to 43%.
About two-thirds of Americans also favour regulating carbon emissions from power and industrial plants.
People say they are more likely to oppose than favour expanding offshore drilling (39% vs. 32, allowing more use of hydraulic fracking to extract oil and natural gas 45 and building new nuclear power plants 43).
Compared with five years ago, Americans are somewhat more positive toward policies focused on renewable energy and somewhat more negative toward those that extract oil and gas. In November 2014, 66% of Americans favoured funding research into renewable energy sources, while nearly 80% do so today.
“We don’t need coal and oil anymore,” said Brenda Perry, a 77-year-old retired hotel executive and Democrat living in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “We have other ways of doing energy.”
Rodney Dell, 65, likes that Trump has resisted what Dell sees as panic about the climate.
“His direction is correct,” Dell, a Republican who runs a distribution warehouse, said of the president. “I think the climate policies are overblown a lot.”
Still, Dell, of Irving, Texas, worked in his youth assembling solar panels and is proud that his local library is 100% powered by renewables. He wants more subsidies for green energy and less offshore drilling.
“If you can do something to conserve energy by using the sun and the wind that’s there every day, it’d be ridiculous not to use them,” he said.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,058 adults was conducted Aug. 15-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.
Riccardi reported from Denver.