This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including new polling about Build Back Better and clean energy incentives, a new poll of Black and Latino Americans about climate and environmental justice issues, new findings from Yale and George Mason’s long-running “Six Americas” tracking study, and a newly released summary of the past year’s polling on climate and environmental issues.
You can also find a press release on the EPC’s end-of-year polling takeaways here, which was put out this week by EDF Action, the League of Conservation Voters, NRDC, Sierra Club, and the Climate Action Campaign.
- Yale Program on Climate Change Communication + GMU Center for Climate Change Communication - A record-high number of Americans are “Alarmed” about climate change; this group is now the largest of six attitudinal segments of the country (Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive) and has nearly doubled in size over the past five years (Article)
- WE ACT for Environmental Justice + GreenLatinos + Third Way - Black and Latino Americans feel the impacts of climate change firsthand; top-testing messages about climate action with these audiences include statements about future generations, scientific consensus, and economic benefits (Release, Slide Deck)
- Navigator - More than three in five voters support the Build Back Better Plan, and support among Republican voters has increased over the past month; most voters also believe that the plan’s major provisions will be effective in lowering household costs (Release, Slide Deck)
- Data for Progress + Invest in America - Broad majorities continue to support the Build Back Better Plan and its specific climate and environmental investments; support for the plan largely holds up after a simulated back-and-forth debate on inflation (Release, Topline)
- Data for Progress - Voters support reforming the clean energy tax credit system with “direct pay” to clean energy producers (Article, Topline)
- Climate Power - Major takeaways from Climate Power’s 2021 polling include increased concern about climate change, steady majority support for the Build Back Better Plan and its core clean energy and climate provisions, and clear political upside for candidates who back the Build Back Better Plan (Article)
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
- Voters support the Build Back Better Plan by a greater than two-to-one margin after reading a brief description including some of its major provisions and estimated price tag [Data for Progress + Invest in America, Navigator]
- By a greater than two-to-one margin (64% support / 29% oppose), voters support including $555 billion in the Build Back Better Act to expand the use of clean energy, prepare for extreme weather events, and create new American jobs in manufacturing and environmental conservation [Data for Progress + Invest in America]
- 74% of voters, including majorities from both parties, support a “direct pay” proposal that would make it easier for clean energy providers to access the government’s clean energy tax incentives [Data for Progress]
- 70% of voters believe that the Build Back Better Plan’s major provisions (including letting Medicare negotiate lower prescription drug prices, reducing the costs of child care, and lowering utility bills) will be effective in bringing down the costs facing American families [Navigator]
- More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single most important issue area to them than any other issue area besides health care and the economy [Economist/YouGov]
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication + GMU Center for Climate Change Communication
A record-high number of Americans are “Alarmed” about climate change; this group is now the largest of six attitudinal segments of the country (Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive) and has nearly doubled in size over the past five years (Article)
Since 2008, Yale and GMU have been using national tracking surveys to segment the population into six distinct categories based on individuals’ attitudes about climate change. The latest release from this study provides further data to demonstrate that the public is more worried than ever before about climate change.
Pulling from this new Yale/GMU article, with emphasis added in bold:
“Our prior research has found that Americans can be categorized into six distinct groups—Global Warming’s Six Americas—based on their beliefs, attitudes, policy support, and behavior about climate change.
The Alarmed are the most engaged, are very worried about global warming, and strongly support climate action. The Concerned think global warming is a significant threat but prioritize it less and are less likely to be taking action. The Cautious are aware of climate change but are uncertain about its causes and are not very worried about it. The Disengaged are largely unaware of global warming, while the Doubtful doubt it is happening or human-caused and perceive it as a low risk. The Dismissive firmly reject the reality of human-caused global warming and oppose most climate change policies.
Thas been substantial change in the distribution of the Six Americas over the past five years. The Alarmed segment has nearly doubled in size, increasing 15 percentage points (from 18% to 33% of the U.S. adult population), including an increase of 9 percentage points from March 2021 to September 2021. In contrast, over the past 5 years only about 1 in 10 Americans have been Dismissive (decreasing from 11% to 9%). Overall, Americans are becoming more worried about global warming, more engaged with the issue, and more supportive of climate solutions.
Americans’ understanding of global warming’s reality and risks, and support for climate action is growing. The growth of the Alarmed segment, in particular, is encouraging because progress on climate change requires strong, coordinated, and sustained action, and the Alarmed are the most likely to demand and support these actions by leaders. Yet, this potential “issue public” still needs to be organized and mobilized to demand action at all levels of American society.”
The last paragraph quoted above helpfully contextualizes what this data means for the work of organizers and advocates. As the article clarifies, we shouldn’t think of the growing share of the population who are alarmed about climate change as people we have already “won over.” Rather, we should interpret the record-high percentage of “Alarmed’ Americans as meaning that there is a larger pool of potential climate activists than ever before who are primed and ready to take action - if given the right push.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice + GreenLatinos + Third Way
Black and Latino Americans feel the impacts of climate change firsthand; top-testing messages about climate action with these audiences include statements about future generations, scientific consensus, and economic benefits (Release, Slide Deck)
This new release, based on polling conducted in the fall of 2021 among Black and Latino Americans in six battleground states (AZ, FL, GA, NV, PA, + TX), is the most in-depth public polling we’ve seen in some time about the impacts of climate change on frontline communities.
The poll finds that, while climate change is clearly a personally salient issue with these voters - 64% of Black respondents and 65% of Latino respondents said they’ve experienced the effects of climate change first-hand - the economy is more of a top-of-mind focus for these groups and it’s therefore important to connect climate action to economic benefits such as job growth and affordability when communicating with these audiences.
Pulling from the “Key Takeaways” in the poll release:
- Black and Latino/a/x communities feel the impact of climate change firsthand, but overall, say the economy and job growth demand more urgent attention when asked about their top issue priorities. While an overwhelming majority (64%) of respondents agree that they personally experience the effects of climate change, only 6% of respondents consider tackling climate change a top priority for the Biden Administration, with stronger support for prioritizing the economy and job growth (23%), among other issues.
- Policymakers, advocates, and communicators – defined as professionals like communications directors, consultants, and press secretaries – need to do a better job engaging with Black and Latino/a/x communities on how the clean energy transition can positively impact their communities. Our results show that while climate change remains a secondary priority for Black and Brown communities that we surveyed, they understand the inherent link between climate change solutions and economic benefits, with 72% of respondents agreeing that a clean energy transition can reduce bills and create jobs, and 80% agreeing that the transition will create millions of well-paying jobs in underserved communities. This exposes the need for policymakers, advocates, and communicators to engage earlier and better to make these links explicit.
- To better engage with Black and Latino/a/x communities on climate policy and the benefits of a clean energy transition, it’s important for policymakers, advocates, and communicators to localize climate messaging to reflect various community priorities. While more than half of respondents cite personal experience with the effects of climate change, urgency to move forward with climate action varied based on tested messaging. For example, messaging framed around top community priorities such as job growth and affordability outperformed other messaging by an average of 11 points. This suggests that there is an opportunity for policymakers to engage these communities around personal experience with climate change and the accruable benefits of the clean energy transition.
And here are the top-testing statements from the message testing section of the deck (Slide 14):
- Future Generations: We don’t own the planet, we borrow it. We need to take better care of our environment and address climate change, so we can leave it clean and healthy for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.
- Same Planet/Protect: We all live on the same planet, so we all need to work to protect it. Only by coming together and taking action can we make sure climate change doesn’t impact us all.
- Same Air/Protect: We all breathe the same air, so we all need to work to protect it. Only by coming together and taking action can we make sure climate change doesn’t impact us all.
- Good-Paying Jobs: If we address climate change the right way, with the right policies, we can create millions of good-paying jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation that will help underserved communities.
- Good-Paying Jobs/Union: If we address climate change the right way, with the right policies, we can create millions of good-paying union jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation that will help underserved communities.
- Warming: The world is experiencing the warmest decade in history, with the temperatures in Antarctica getting close to 70 degrees. Scientists agree we only have about 12 years to act on climate change before the effects will be permanent.
- Transportation: Investments in clean infrastructure will lead to safer roads, less traffic, and more pollution-free public transit. And building new mass transit like trains and buses can help people get to work more easily and affordably.
More than three in five voters support the Build Back Better Plan, and support among Republican voters has increased over the past month; most voters also believe that the plan’s major provisions will be effective in lowering household costs (Release, Slide Deck)
Navigator’s first survey of the year indicates that public support for the Build Back Better Plan has ticked up in recent weeks, with voters supporting the plan by a 63%-26% margin when given basic information about it - up from a 58%-32% margin in December.
Republican voters are responsible for a big part of that increase, as they went from opposing the plan by a 35-point margin in December (27% support / 62% oppose) to a narrower 10-point margin now (39% support / 49% oppose).
The new release from Navigator also shows that voters see the core provisions of the Build Back Better Plan as effective ways to address the rising costs facing American families. The survey tested nine different policy ideas, framed as “Democratic polic[ies] aimed at helping bring down the costs facing American families,” and asked respondents how effective they believed each policy idea would be at achieving that goal.
After reading about the Build Back Better Plan (described as Democrats’ “new plan that will level the playing field for working families by letting Medicare negotiate lower prescription drug prices and bringing down the costs of child care and of utility bills”), 70% said it would be effective at bringing down costs for American families - more than any other item tested in the survey aside from banning insurance companies from issuing surprise medical bills following emergency care (73%).
As this data demonstrates, the Build Back Better Plan’s potential to lower household costs remains a critical selling point for the plan. The public needs to hear more about how the legislation would have a tangible impact on regular Americans’ lives, and the fact that it will reduce costs - including energy bills - continues to be a very salient way to demonstrate its personal impact.
Data for Progress + Invest in America
Broad majorities continue to support the Build Back Better Plan and its specific climate and environmental investments; support for the plan largely holds up after a simulated back-and-forth debate on inflation (Release, Topline)
Like Navigator, Data for Progress and Invest in America have measured an increase in support for the Build Back Better Plan in recent weeks. This new survey pegs support for the plan at a 65%-29% margin - up from a 61%-32% margin in Data for Progress’s December polling.
Encouragingly, the new DFP/Invest in America poll also picked up on softening opposition among Republican voters as Republicans oppose the plan by 18 points in their latest data (38% support / 56% oppose) - down from a 27-point margin of opposition (33% support / 60% oppose) in December.
The new poll also remeasured support after exposing respondents to new pieces of information about the plan. After being told how the Build Back Better Act would be paid for (by raising taxes and closing loopholes for the very wealthy and corporations), support held steady at 65% support / 29% oppose (though it’s worth noting that “strong support” increased from 32% to 40%.)
Then, following inflation-related messages from supporters of the plan (“Supporters of the bill say it will help families deal with inflation by lowering costs for everyday things like prescription drugs, healthcare, and childcare”) and opponents of the plan (“Opponents of the bill say it is reckless government spending that will deepen the national debt and drive up inflation”), support tightened to a 59%-36% margin.
The slight decrease in support for the plan following this simulated inflation debate provides further evidence that opposition messages about inflation can inflict some damage on the Build Back Better Plan’s public support - making it all the more important for advocates to keep communicating about how the plan will bring down household costs.
Data for Progress
In a national poll fielded just before Christmas, Data for Progress tested support for the idea of providing “direct pay” to clean energy producers so that energy producers can tap directly into clean energy incentives without needing to partner with a financial institution that is looking to alleviate its tax burden.
The poll explained the idea as follows: “The U.S. government has a series of tax credits to lower the cost of new clean energy projects. Under the current system, most businesses can’t take advantage of their clean energy tax credits directly and must strike deals with banks to get the benefits. Providers that deliver electricity to rural Americans often have a difficult time taking advantage of these tax credits. Would you support or oppose reforms that would make it easier for rural power providers to access the government’s clean energy tax credits?”
After reading that description, nearly three-quarters of voters support the “direct pay” proposal (74% support /15% oppose) - including majorities of Democrats (82%), independent voters (74%), and Republicans (63%).
It’s safe to assume that the rural focus here is helpful in garnering support for the idea, particularly among Republican audiences. Other polling has shown that, while there’s a good amount of support for the clean energy transition in rural areas, it tends to lag behind the support we see in urban and suburban areas. (Third Way released a good, in-depth poll of rural voters’ attitudes about climate change in 2019).
This new poll is a good reminder that, as advocates seek to strengthen support for the clean energy transition in rural America, there are a lot of policies in the Build Back Better Plan and the broader progressive climate agenda - including strengthening the electric grid to provide more clean and reliable energy to rural areas, creating new jobs programs for unemployed fossil fuel workers to safely close down abandoned oil and gas wells, and making it easier for rural energy producers to access clean energy incentives - that would specifically benefit rural areas.
Major takeaways from Climate Power’s 2021 polling include increased concern about climate change, steady majority support for the Build Back Better Plan and its core clean energy and climate provisions, and clear political upside for candidates who back the Build Back Better Plan (Article)
Climate Power did a ton of great polling in 2021 - this joint LCV/Climate Power poll deck from July in particular is one we link to a lot because it succinctly honed in on the best messaging to persuade voters to support the Build Back Better Plan - and I’m sure we’ll be sharing a lot more poll findings from them in 2022.
This new article takes a look back at some of the major findings from Climate Power’s 2021 research - including rising public concern about climate impacts, durable support for the Build Back Better Plan even as President Biden’s approval ratings have fluctuated, widespread support for specific clean energy policies in the Build Back Better Plan, strong support for climate action in battleground congressional districts, and a clear preference among voters that congressional candidates support the Build Back Better Plan.