This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including new polling on voters’ reactions to arguments from the two parties on climate change; the impact of climate change and the environment on battleground voters’ decisions in the upcoming midterms; an experiment in communicating about human-caused climate change using a “heat-trapping blanket” metaphor; Americans’ personal experiences with climate change; and the widening generational gap in Republicans’ environmental attitudes.
- Navigator - Voters side with simulated Democratic arguments on climate that emphasize how climate change is already here over simulated Republican arguments that raise doubts about the science and the cost of action (Release, Deck, Topline)
- [AZ, GA, NV, + PA] Environmental Voter Project - In battleground states, Democratic candidates who want to expand fossil fuels face greater backlash from their base than Republican candidates who want to expand clean energy (Report, Topline)
- Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCC) - Information that includes a basic explanation of the way that burning fossil fuels leads to global warming (using the metaphor of a heat-trapping blanket) is effective in increasing acknowledgement of human-caused global warming, especially among Republicans (Article)
- Economist + YouGov - Most Americans now say they’ve felt the effects of climate change (Topline, Crosstabs)
- Gallup - Republicans’ generational gap on environmental issues is widening as younger Republicans become more concerned about the environment (Article)
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
Voters support President Biden declaring climate change a “national emergency” by a 17-point margin (53%-36%) [POLITICO + Morning Consult]
The majority of Americans (53%) say they’ve personally felt the effects of climate change [Economist/YouGov]
More Americans say that climate change and the environment is the single “most important issue” to them than any other issue besides inflation, jobs and the economy, and health care [Economist/YouGov]
Clear and simple information that explains how human activity is contributing to climate change can be effective in raising recognition of the problem. The YPCCC finds that the “heat-trapping blanket” metaphor (explaining that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat like a blanket, and burning fossil fuels has made that blanket thicker and thicker) increases beliefs about human-caused climate change, especially among Republican audiences, when combined with other information about climate impacts, solutions, or causes.
Americans are growing more attuned to climate change as the weather heats up. The Economist and YouGov have measured a six-point increase over the last month in the percentage of Americans who say they’ve personally felt the impacts of climate change, and a majority of the country now say they’ve personally been impacted.
Democratic candidates in battleground states risk losing their base over fossil fuel expansion. The Environmental Voter Project finds that most Democratic voters in battleground states say they probably wouldn’t support a Democratic candidate who wants to expand the use of fossil fuels, at a time when battleground voters who name climate change and the environment as their top issue are already not feeling particularly motivated to turn out.
Voters side with simulated Democratic arguments on climate that emphasize how climate change is affecting our way of life over simulated Republican arguments that raise doubts about the science and the cost of action (Release, Deck, Topline)
This report from Navigator reinforces a lot of polling that has shown that climate change and the environment are unique issue strengths for Democrats this year.
Navigator’s polling shows that voters trust the Democratic Party by wider margins over the Republican Party on protecting the environment (23 points, 51%-28%) and addressing climate change (21 points, 49%-28%) than on any other issues. Additionally, after being exposed to a back-and-forth debate, voters side more with simulated Democratic messaging on the issue.
When presented with the following head-to-head statements about climate change, in which the Democratic argument focuses on the ways that climate change is “starting to affect our way of life,” poll respondents side more with the Democratic argument on climate than the Republican argument by a 23-point margin:
Democrats say that climate change is starting to affect our way of life. Homes and small businesses around the country are facing rising sea levels, flooding, and wildfires, while other areas face drought and record heat to the point where many Americans have to stay inside.
Republicans say that the truth about climate change isn't really known and the science is unclear. Right now, we shouldn't be spending money on projects that will just end up raising taxes and energy costs.
The poll also tested an alternate Democratic argument, pasted below, against the same Republican argument. This alternate Democratic argument focused on the casualties of extreme weather and, while it still outperformed the Republican argument by 18 points, it wasn’t quite as effective as the argument focusing on day-to-day disruptions to Americans’ lives.
Democrats who say that the threat of extreme weather caused by climate change is here -- leading to record-heat waves, wildfires and storms that are killing people because of climate change
It would be useful to see this type of message test between more and less severe climate impacts replicated in different ways, but the results here show that the most dramatic argument about the consequences of climate change isn’t necessarily the most persuasive one. As uncomfortable weather becomes an increasingly common concern, especially in the summer months, there are likely to be persuadable audiences who aren’t yet convinced of the most severe long-term consequences of climate change but are receptive to messaging that rings true to their dayto-day experiences.
To that point, this Navigator poll finds that 45% of voters say the weather in their community this summer has been different from past summers. When asked what in particular is different about this summer, hotter weather (73%) is by far the most common type of unusual weather cited by this segment.
[AZ, GA, NV, + PA] Environmental Voter Project
The Environmental Voter Project surveyed voters in four 2022 battleground states for this report (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania), including both likely voters and unlikely 2022 voters in order to compare differences between the two groups.
The poll finds that likely and unlikely voters are about equally likely to name climate change and the environment as their top issue, but those who name climate or the environment as their top issue (“environmental voters”) differ from other issue constituencies in some notable ways.
In terms of voting intent this year, battleground environmental voters aren’t feeling particularly enthused. Roughly half of environmental voters (52%) say they’re “extremely” motivated to vote this year, which is on par with those who name the economy / jobs (52%) or inflation / cost of living (50%) as their top issues, but considerably lower than those who say that expanding voting rights (83%) or protecting abortion and reproductive rights (62%) are their top issues.
Environmental voters are especially likely to consider their issue to be part of their personal identity. Nearly three in ten environmental voters (28%) consider themselves to be “activists,” which is about the same percentage as those who name expanding voting rights (29%) and protecting abortion and reproductive rights (27%) as their top issues. Among voters who named any other issue as their top issue - including health care, preventing gun violence, crime / public safety, the economy / jobs, and inflation / cost of living - no more than 20% describe themselves as “activists.”
The poll also finds that Republican voters in battleground states are inclined to support Republican candidates who want to expand clean energy, while Democratic voters in battleground states are not inclined to support Democratic candidates who want to expand fossil fuels. Across the four states surveyed, 52% of Republican voters say they would “probably” or “definitely” vote for a Republican candidate who wanted to expand clean energy and 36% say they “probably” or “definitely” would not support such a candidate.
Meanwhile, the majority of Democratic voters (53%) say they would “probably” or “definitely” not vote for a Democratic candidate who wanted to expand the use of fossil fuels. Only 34% of Democratic voters say they “definitely” or “probably” would support a Democrat who wants to expand fossil fuels.
As the report summarizes it: “A fossil fuel-friendly Democrat risks upsetting Democratic voters much more than a clean energy Republican risks upsetting Republican voters.”
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCC)
Information that includes a basic explanation of the way that burning fossil fuels leads to global warming (using the metaphor of a heat-trapping blanket) is effective in increasing acknowledgement of human-caused global warming, especially among Republicans (Article)
A new paper summarized here by the YPCCC illustrates how persuasion on climate change and education on climate change are often one and the same, as even basic information about the issue can be effective in changing public perceptions.
Excerpting from the article linked here, with emphasis added in bold:
“Scientists have known for over 150 years how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (from fossil fuel burning and land use change) acts like a heat-trapping blanket, causing global warming. Yet, public understanding of this process is low. As of 2022, over 40% of Americans do not understand that human activities – especially burning coal, oil, and methane gas – are responsible for all of the observed increase in global temperatures during the past century.
Using four experimental and one control condition, we tested whether information about the human causes of global warming increases Americans’ beliefs and concerns about global warming and support for climate policies. All four experimental conditions began with the heat-trapping blanket metaphor:
“Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat and warms the Earth, like a blanket traps heat and warms your body. Since the mid-1800s, humans have been burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) to make electricity, heat and cool buildings, and fuel our transportation systems. Burning fossil fuels has released billions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere, making that blanket thicker and trapping more heat, leading to global warming.”
Condition #1 then used the blanket metaphor + explained how we know that climate change is not naturally caused; condition #2 used the blanket metaphor + information about climate change impacts; condition #3 used the blanket metaphor + information about climate change solutions; and condition #4 used the blanket metaphor + information about both impacts and solutions. In the control condition, participants read an unrelated passage about artificial intelligence.
Participants were then asked to estimate what proportion of global warming is due to human activities. On average, respondents in the four treatment conditions attributed 70% of global warming to human activities. By contrast, respondents in the control group attributed 65% of global warming to human activities. The four treatment conditions increased understanding of the human causes of climate change among both Democrats and Republicans.
Importantly, there were no backlash effects among Republicans, and in fact understanding increased among Republicans more than among Democrats, on average. This suggests that when informed about climate change causes, impacts and solutions, most Americans will update their own climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support.”
Economist + YouGov
A lot of environmental polling has indicated that there’s a seasonal pattern to Americans’ attitudes about climate change and extreme weather, as people are more attuned to extreme weather and more likely to connect it to climate change in the hot summer months.
With heat waves sweeping across the U.S. and much of the globe already this summer, we are likely approaching another high point in public awareness of climate change. National tracking surveys by The Economist and YouGov back this up, as the percentage of Americans who say they’ve personally felt the impacts of climate change increased from 47% in an early July survey (fielded from July 2nd - July 5th) to 53% in this latest survey (fielded from July 23rd - July 26th).
The poll additionally finds that Americans are 14 points more likely to believe that heat waves are “the result of climate change” (50%) than to believe they are the “kinds of events that just happen from time to time” (36%), and 15 points more likely to agree (48%) than disagree (33%) that there is a “climate emergency” in the United States.
Republicans’ generational gap on environmental issues is widening as younger Republicans become more concerned about the environment (Article)
There has been some good polling, including by Pew, that shows wide generational gaps within the Republican electorate around issues related to climate, energy, and the environment.
This new article from Gallup utilizes tracking data that goes back to the early 2000s to demonstrate how the GOP’s generational divide on environmental issues has grown in recent years
Averaging across Gallup surveys conducted between 2015 and 2018, younger Republicans aged 18-34 were only slightly more likely to say that they worried “a great deal” about the environment (24%) than Republicans aged 35-54 (21%) or Republicans aged 55+ (19%).
In Gallup surveys conducted so far between 2019 and 2022, however, the percentage of young Republicans aged 18-34 who worry a “great deal” about the environment has increased to 32% - 14 points higher than the percentage among Republicans aged 35-54 (18%) and more than twice as high as the percentage among Republicans aged 55+ (14%).
There has been a similar trend among independents, as the gap in concern about the environment between younger independents aged 18-34 and older independents aged 55+ grew from 12 points in surveys conducted between 2015 and 2018 (48% among younger independents and 36% among older independents) to 20 points in surveys conducted so far between 2019 and 2022 (60% among younger independents and 40% among older independents). As with Republicans, the growing generational divide among independents has been fueled by a fairly sharp rise in environmental concern within the youngest age group.
Among Democrats, meanwhile, there’s no observable age difference in Gallup’s measurement of environmental concern: in surveys conducted so far between 2019 and 2022, precisely 64% of Democrats from each age grouping (18-34, 35-54, and 55+) say they worry a “great deal” about the environment.
The age differences among Republican and independents are a good reminder that there is considerable diversity of opinion toward environmental issues among right-leaning audiences. While it can be discouraging to see lagging levels of concern and support for climate action among Republican audiences, there are still large numbers of right-leaning Americans - particularly within younger generations - who want to see real solutions to climate and environmental problems.