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American Attitudes about Global Warming and Energy Policy: Issue Brief

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In its inaugural poll of Americans’ environmental attitudes, a new collaboration between The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that most Americans say the United States ought to take a leadership role in combatting global warming, and twice as many Americans think the country should participate in international treaty negotiations aimed at addressing its effects as oppose it. However, Americans tend to place a low priority on addressing global warming when compared with other environmental concerns. And few Americans believe that protecting the environment needs to come at a cost of lost economic growth.

The survey, funded by Yale University, also found that Americans are divided on whether the Keystone XL pipeline should be constructed, and most lack confidence that, if constructed, it would be a safe way to transport oil.

To gain a better understanding of the American public’s views on global warming and other environmental issues, the United States’ role in international negotiations to reduce global warming, and policies to transport energy, Yale University and the AP-NORC Center conducted a nationally representative online survey of 1,576 American adults between November 20 and December 1, 2014.

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These new data come at a crucial time in the development of global policy on climate change. In November 2014, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement between the United States and China to reduce each country’s carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to slow the Earth’s rising temperatures. This agreement came weeks before the United Nations convened the Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru, with the objective of drafting a new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions for adoption at the 2015 convention.

These new data also closely follow the U.S. Senate’s rejection of a proposal to build a new oil pipeline in the Keystone Pipeline System, known as the Keystone XL. If approved, this controversial 1,179-mile pipeline would transport oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to be refined in the United States.

The key findings from the study, summarized below, provide policymakers with new and actionable data during this time of global action on climate change:

  • Fifty-six percent of Americans believe global warming is happening and 20 percent believe it is not happening.  Almost a quarter, 23 percent, are unsure.
  • Among those who believe global warming is happening, most say that human activities are at least somewhat to blame. Of those who do not believe global warming is happening, a majority say the threat of global warming has been exaggerated by some people and the press.
  • When it comes to addressing global warming, Americans want the United States to be a global leader. About twice as many Americans favor U.S. participation in international climate negotiations as oppose it. 
  • Many Americans are still unsure about the implications of the recent global warming agreement between the United States and China. Just over half of all Americans feel they do not know enough about this agreement to say whether it places too much responsibility on the United States, on China, or whether it divides responsibility fairly between the two countries.
  • Americans show majority support for some specific policies intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, like funding research for clean energy and regulating carbon dioxide emissions. And while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to favor these policies, they each enjoy at least 50 percent support from both parties.
  • Most Americans would like to see developed or industrialized countries outside the United States and corporations do more than they are now to reduce the effects of global warming. 
  • When it comes to the long-term impact of environmental protections, fewer than 1 in 5 think they will harm the economy. Sixty percent report they will improve economic growth and provide new jobs, 22 percent think protections will have no impact on economic growth or jobs, and only 15 percent say they will reduce economic growth and cost jobs. 
  • Americans are mixed on whether construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should proceed, with Republicans more likely than Democrats to support it. Yet just a quarter of Americans are confident it will be a safe way to transport heavy oil. 
  • Americans’ party affiliation and political ideology relate consistently to their environmental policy preferences. The impact of other demographic factors, including age, gender, and socioeconomic status, on attitudes is less consistent.


A Majority Of Americans Say That Global Warming Is Occurring, Although A Sizable Minority Remains Unsure.

When asked whether global warming is happening or not, 56 percent of adults say it is, 20 percent say it is not, and 23 percent say they are unsure. Belief in global warming falls largely along party and ideological lines. Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to say global warming is happening (73 percent vs. 39 percent), and 4 in 5 liberals say global warming is happening, significantly more than the 61 percent of moderates and 36 percent of conservatives who say the same.

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Of Those Who Believe Global Warming Is Happening, Most Say That Human Activities Are Contributing To The Problem. Of Those Who Do Not Believe Global Warming Is Happening, A Majority Say The Threat Of Global Warming Has Been Exaggerated By The Press.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans who say global warming is happening report that human activities are at least partially the cause of it. Fifty-seven percent say global warming is caused mostly or entirely by human activities, 31 percent say it is caused about equally by human activity and natural changes in the environment, and only 7 percent say it is caused mostly or entirely by natural changes in the environment.

Republicans who think global warming is happening are more apt than Democrats who do to doubt that it is caused by human activities. Sixty-four percent of Democrats say human activities are the largest culprit, compared with 46 percent of Republicans in this group.

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There are significant differences in views about the causes of global warming based on race and gender. Four in 10 blacks who think global warming is happening say it is caused mostly or entirely by human activities, compared with about 6 in 10 whites. Men are more likely to believe global warming is caused mostly or entirely by human activities (63 percent) than women (51 percent), and women are more likely than men to believe global warming is caused about equally by human activities and natural changes in the environment (36 percent vs. 25 percent).

Younger adults and those with more education are more likely than older adults and people with less education to say global warming is caused mostly or entirely by human activities. Six in 10 adults between 18 and 29 years of age say global warming is caused mostly or entirely by human activities, compared with 5 in 10 adults 60 years old or over.

Among those who say global warming is happening or are not sure if it is happening, a majority are at least moderately worried about it. Thirty-four percent are extremely or very worried about global warming, 38 percent are moderately worried, and 20 percent are not too worried or not worried at all. Democrats are more likely to express worry about global warming than are Republicans, with 42 percent of Democrats saying they are extremely or very worried about global warming and just 24 percent of Republicans saying the same.

Among those who say global warming is not happening, the reasons are varied as to why, although a majority say the threat is overblown. Among the 20 percent of Americans who say global warming is not happening, 58 percent say that the risks of global warming have been exaggerated by some people and the press. Forty-two percent say they do not find the scientific evidence compelling, and 38 percent say global warming is a hoax. Twenty-nine percent say it is not caused by human activity. Just 7 percent of those who say global warming is not happening say they could be convinced that it is happening.

When It Comes To Addressing Global Warming, Americans Want The United States To Be A Global Leader, And A Majority Believes That President Obama Should Pursue An International Treaty To Address The Problem.
Americans broadly support U.S. action to combat global warming, and a majority would like to see the country take on a leadership role on the issue. Sixty-one percent of Americans think the United States should be a leader on global warming, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. An additional 18 percent of Americans would like to see the United States take action, but only in conjunction with other countries. Just 16 percent say the United States should not take action on global warming, regardless of what other countries do.

An overwhelming majority (83 percent) of those who say global warming is happening believe the United States should be a leader on global warming. Those who say global warming is not happening, however, are more divided on how the United States should lead relative to other countries. Forty-five percent of those who say global warming is not happening say the United States should not take action regardless of what other countries do. Thirty-eight percent say the United States should avoid taking action on global warming unless other countries take action, too. Fifteen percent of those who say global warming is not happening say the United States should lead on global warming issues, even if it means taking action when other countries do not.

Support for American leadership divides sharply along partisan lines. Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say the United States should be a leader on this issue (75 percent vs. 47 percent).

To address global warming, half of Americans support U.S. participation in the development of a new international treaty directed at the problem, while 23 percent oppose such participation. Twenty-seven percent neither favor nor oppose participation.

For many Americans, addressing the problem means President Obama taking action on the international stage. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say the president should negotiate a new international agreement to address global warming, though the public is divided over whether he should act only after approval by the Senate (36 percent) or proceed regardless of the Senate’s approval (37 percent). Twenty-two percent oppose President Obama pursuing a new international agreement in either fashion.

Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided over how the United States should proceed on the issue of global warming on the international stage. A large majority of Democrats (67 percent) say they favor U.S. participation in the development of a new international treaty, and 59 percent say President Obama should negotiate and act on such an agreement even if it will not be approved by the Senate. A significantly smaller share of Republicans supports an international treaty (35 percent), and an even smaller share (14 percent) says President Obama should negotiate and act on that treaty without approval from the Senate. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the president should only negotiate a new treaty that will be approved by the Senate (49 percent vs. 28 percent), or that President Obama should not pursue a new international agreement at all (35 percent vs. 10 percent).


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Many Americans Are Still Unsure About The Implications Of The Recent Global Warming Agreement Between The United States And China.

The United States and China recently reached an agreement to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and to cap China’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Most Americans (54 percent) feel they do not know enough about this agreement to say whether it places too much responsibility on the United States, on China, or whether it divides responsibility fairly between the two countries. Looking at those Americans with an opinion on the agreement, 47 percent say the agreement places too much responsibility on the United States, while just 5 percent say it places too much responsibility on China. Forty-three percent say the agreement divides responsibility fairly between both countries.

Republicans with an opinion on the agreement are more likely than Democrats with an opinion to say the treaty places too much responsibility on the United States (64 percent vs. 35 percent), while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the treaty divides responsibility fairly (56 percent vs. 32 percent).

Despite large portions of the country saying they do not know much about this agreement, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) feel that the agreement is a helpful first step toward a broader international treaty to address global warming. Less than a third (30 percent) say it is an unnecessary step that will hinder the U.S. economy. Democrats are especially encouraged by this agreement; 82 percent say it is a helpful first step toward a broader agreement, while just 49 percent of Republicans feel the same.

Americans Show Majority Support For Some Specific Policies Intended To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States.
Asked about several domestic energy policies, majorities favor some intended to reduce greenhouse gases. Sixty-six percent of Americans favor funding research into renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and 60 percent support the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. And while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to favor these policies, they each enjoy at least 50 percent support from both parties.

Americans are more divided on encouraging the building of more nuclear power plants. Just 29 percent favor such a policy, 28 percent oppose it, and 40 percent neither favor nor oppose it. Republicans are more likely to support building more nuclear power plants than Democrats (38 percent vs. 24 percent).

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Americans Think Many Groups And Institutions Could Be Doing More To Reduce The Effects Of Global Warming, Particularly Developed Countries Outside The United States And Corporations.
Most Americans would like to see developed or industrialized countries outside the United States (62 percent) and corporations (61 percent) do more than they are now to reduce the effects of global warming. Majorities also think developing countries and citizens themselves should be doing much or somewhat more (57 percent each). Only about half of Americans expect more action out of their government. Fifty-two percent say the U.S. federal government and 49 percent say state government officials should be doing more to reduce the effects of global warming. Forty-five percent would like to see more from local government officials.

Compared to Republicans, Democrats are more interested in seeing increased efforts to reduce the effects of global warming from all these groups and institutions. The difference between the two parties is especially large when asking about the U.S. federal government (67 percent vs. 38 percent) and state government officials (64 percent vs. 36 percent).

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When It Comes To The Long-Term Impact Of Environmental Protections, Fewer Than 1 In 5 Think They Will Harm The Economy.
A significant majority of Americans say protecting the environment will not negatively affect the economy. When asked about protecting the environment in the long run, 60 percent of people report it will improve economic growth and provide new jobs, 22 percent think it will have no impact on economic growth or jobs, and only 15 percent say it will reduce economic growth and cost jobs. 

More so than party affiliation, political ideology is a significant predictor of perceptions of the long-term impacts of environmental protections. Political liberals are more likely to believe protecting the environment will improve economic growth and provide new jobs (77 percent) than either moderates (60 percent) or conservatives (47 percent).

In addition, men are less likely to believe protecting the environment will improve economic growth and provide new jobs (56 percent) than women (64 percent).

Among A List Of Environmental Issues, Global Warming Does Not Rank As A Serious Issue For Many.
Majorities of Americans report that a number of different environmental issues are extremely or very serious problems facing the Earth. When asked about 15 different issues, those most commonly identified as extremely or very serious problems are unsafe disposal of toxic waste (68 percent), water pollution (62 percent), and air pollution (59 percent).

The issues least commonly identified as extremely or very serious problems are loss of open spaces and undeveloped land (44 percent), use of genetically modified organisms in food (44 percent), and global warming (46 percent).

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For all but 1 of the 15 issues, a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans identify each as an extremely or very serious problem. For example, Democrats are nearly twice as likely to report the unavailability of clean energy as an extremely or very serious problem (61 percent) than Republicans (37 percent). Democrats and Republicans mirror each other in their views on the seriousness of the use of genetically modified organisms in foods: 46 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans believe this is an extremely or very serious problem.

Older people are more likely than younger people to identify issues such as population growth, loss of tropical rain forests, and the use of genetically modified organisms in food as extremely or very serious problems. For example, 68 percent of adults 60 years old or older report that water pollution is an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 52 percent of people between 18 and 29 years old.

Women are more likely than men to report that issues such as unsafe disposal of toxic waste, inefficient or wasteful use of energy, and the condition of the world’s oceans are extremely or very serious problems. For example, 57 percent of women say damage to the Earth’s ozone layer is an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49 percent of men.

On the issues of loss of open spaces, global warming, and the condition of the world’s ocean, differences in concern emerge based on the type of location in which Americans live. Those who live in urban spaces are more likely than those who live in the suburbs to say loss of open spaces and undeveloped land is an extremely or very serious problem (49 percent vs. 42 percent). Rural Americans and urban Americans are more likely to express extreme concern about the loss of open spaces relative to suburbanites (25 percent, 19 percent, and 13 percent, respectively). Urban dwellers are also more likely than those who live in rural areas to say global warming is an extremely or very serious issue (55 percent vs. 40 percent). Those who live in urban areas (58 percent) are more likely than those who live in the suburbs (48 percent) and rural areas (43 percent) to say the condition of the world’s oceans is an extremely or very serious problem.

Half Of Americans Neither Favor Nor Oppose The Keystone XL Pipeline Or Are Not Sure About Their Support, But Those With An Opinion Are Divided Along Party Lines In Their Support For The Construction Of The Keystone XL Pipeline.
Thirty-one percent of Americans say they favor the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy oil from oil sands in Canada into the United States for refining, and 18 percent oppose its construction. Half of Americans say they neither favor nor oppose its construction (31 percent) or are not sure whether they favor or oppose it (19 percent).

Significantly more Republicans than Democrats express support for the Keystone XL pipeline (51 percent vs. 15 percent). Over half of Democrats (56 percent) have no preference or are undecided, compared to 41 percent of Republicans.

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Among those who say they favor the proposal, support waivers when asked whether they would still favor the pipeline’s construction if the majority of the energy produced using the transported oil was exported overseas after it passed through the United States. When presented with this scenario, 37 percent say they would still favor the pipeline’s construction, 35 percent say they would oppose it, and 27 percent say they would neither favor nor oppose its construction in this case.

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About A Quarter Of Americans Are Extremely Or Very Confident That The Pipeline Would Be A Safe Way To Transport Heavy Oil, And Even Fewer Have Confidence In Freight Trains As An Alternative.
Americans lack confidence in the Keystone XL pipeline’s ability to transfer oil safely. Just 24 percent of Americans say they are extremely or very confident that the pipeline would be a safe way to transport the heavy oil, 43 percent are moderately confident, and 31 percent are not very or not at all confident.

Democrats are over twice as likely as Republicans to say they are not very or not at all confident that the pipeline would safely transport oil (43 percent vs. 19 percent). 

Confidence in the pipeline’s safety is concentrated among those who favor building it. In that group, 60 percent are extremely or very confident it would be a safe way to transport the oil, compared with just 7 percent among all others.

Even fewer express confidence in the safety of freight trains to transport oil as an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline. Just 10 percent of Americans say they are extremely or very confident that if the Keystone XL pipeline is not approved, the transportation of oil by freight trains would be safe. Equal proportions (44 percent) say they are either moderately confident or not very or not at all confident. Democrats and Republicans express similarly low levels of confidence in the safety of transporting oil by freight trains, as do liberals and conservatives. Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say they are not confident that freight transportation of oil would be safe. 

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Americans Express Significant Concern About The Risks Posed To The Environment By Various Energy Sources, And A Majority Say It Is The Responsibility Of Energy Companies To Ensure The Safety Of Consumers And Workers Regardless Of Government Regulations.
Of eight sources of energy measured in the survey, nuclear energy causes the most concern among Americans. Seven in 10 Americans are at least moderately concerned about the risks of nuclear energy to the environment. A majority of Americans are at least moderately concerned about the risks of oil (69 percent), coal (68 percent), and natural gas (54 percent), which, through human activity, combine as the three largest emitters of carbon dioxide that climate scientists say are accelerating global warming [1].  Those who say global warming is happening are more likely than those who do not to say they are extremely or very concerned about the risks posed by oil, coal, and natural gas. Fewer Americans express concern about water (42 percent), geothermal (36 percent), wind (31 percent), and solar energy (29 percent).

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When it comes to safety standards around energy sources, nearly twice as many Americans believe that the responsibility to ensure that consumers and workers are kept safe falls on the energy companies themselves, not on the government. Sixty-two percent of Americans say it is the responsibility of energy companies to make sure that consumers and workers are safe, regardless of what government regulations exist, and 35 percent of Americans say it is the responsibility of government to make sure that energy companies keep consumers and workers safe while conducting their business. Democrats are more likely than Republicans (45 percent vs. 25 percent) to say it is the government’s responsibility to regulate the safety of energy sources. Still, like Republicans, a majority of Democrats say it is ultimately the energy company’s responsibility (54 percent of Democrats vs. 74 percent of Republicans).

Younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to say it is the government’s responsibility to protect consumers and workers.

About The Study
Methodology
This survey was funded by Yale University and conducted by GfK using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate but do not already have internet access, GfK provides, at no cost, a laptop and ISP connection. People who already have computers and internet service are permitted to participate using their own equipment. Panelists then receive unique login information for accessing surveys online, and they are sent emails throughout each month inviting them to participate in the research.

Interviews were conducted between November 20 and December 1, 2014, with 1,576 adults age 18 and over from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. A total of 3,285 panel members were randomly drawn from GfK’s KnowledgePanel®, and 1,576 (excluding breakoffs) responded to the invitation, yielding a final stage completion rate of 48 percent. The recruitment rate for this study, reported by GfK, was 14 percent, and the profile rate was 63.6 percent, for a cumulative response rate of 4.3 percent. The overall margin of error is +/- 2.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Once the sample has been selected and fielded, and all the study data has been collected and made final, a poststratification process is used to adjust for any survey nonresponse as well as any noncoverage or under- and oversampling resulting from the study-specific sample design. Poststratification variables included age, sex, education, race, region, and metropolitan status using the latest March supplement of the Current Population Survey. The weighted data, which reflect the U.S. population of adults age 18 and over, were used for all analyses.

All analyses were conducted using STATA (version 13), which allows for adjustment of standard errors for complex sample designs. All differences reported between subgroups of the U.S. population are at the 95 percent level of statistical significance, meaning that there is only a 5 percent (or lower) probability that the observed differences could be attributed to chance variation in sampling. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, complete with tabulations of top-level results for each question, is available on the AP-NORC Center website: www.apnorc.org.

Contributing Researchers

From NORC at the University of Chicago

Jennifer Benz
Emily Alvarez
David Sterrett
Daniel Malato
Trevor Tompson

From the Associated Press

Jennifer Agiesta
Emily Swanson

From The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies  
   
Anthony Leiserowitz
Geoffrey Feinberg
Seth Rosenthal   
                                                           
About The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies 
Founded in 1900, FES is the oldest institution of higher learning devoted to conservation and natural resource management in the United States. Now in its second century, the school prepares new leadership and creates new knowledge to sustain and restore the long-term health of the biosphere and the well-being of its people. We educate women and men to guide human activity at the local, national, and global levels with a comprehensive understanding of the environmental, economic, and social effects of their choices. We create new knowledge in the science of sustainability and new methods of applying that knowledge to the challenge of environmental management, the restoration of degraded environments, and the pursuit of sustainable development. 
http://environment.yale.edu/

About The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research
The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world.
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The Associated Press is the essential global news network, deli​​​vering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world's population sees news from AP.
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NORC at the University of Chicago is an independent research organization that collaborates with government agencies, foundations, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to provide data and analysis that support informed decision-making in key areas, including health, education, economics, crime, justice, and energy. NORC's 70 years of leadership and experience in data collection, analysis, and dissemination—coupled with deep subject matter expertise—provides the foundation for effective solutions.
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The two organizations have established the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to conduct, analyze, and distribute social science research in the public interest on newsworthy topics, and to use the power of journalism to tell the stories that research reveals.

Footnotes
  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Overview of greenhouse gases. Washington, DC: EPA. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html

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