Poll: 75 Percent of Americans Support Regulating CO2 As A Pollutant, 60 Percent Support Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax

A new national survey confirms strong public support for funding renewable energy research, regulating carbon pollution, and signing a global treaty to slash emissions. The study, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, found a remarkable 75% of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) as a pollutant.”

The survey’s results are counter to widely held assumptions among the media and politicians, but consistent with recent polling. The poll found:

  • 63 percent of Americans support “signing an international treaty that requires the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050“!
  • By a margin of 3 to 1 — 61 percent to 20 percent — Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who supports a “revenue neutral” tax shift, increasing taxes on fossil fuels, and reducing the federal income tax by an equal amount.
  • 61 percent said they support holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for “hidden costs we pay for citizens who get sick from polluted air and water, military costs to maintain access to foreign oil, and the environmental costs of spills and accidents.”
  • By 3 to 1 — 58 percent to 17 percent — Americans say “protecting the environment … improves economic growth and provides new jobs” vs those who say it “reduces economic growth and costs jobs.”
  • Asked “When there is a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, which do you think is more important?” an amazing 62 percent supported “protecting the environment, even if it reduces economic growth” vs. 38 percent who backed “Economic growth, even if it leads to environmental problems.”

Of course, the conflict that arises between the kind of environmental protection progressives support and economic growth only exists because of a narrow definition of economic growth whereby GDP doesn’t take into account the harm caused by pollution to humans and a livable climate (see Economists concluded “Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added” and natural gas damages are larger than its value added for even low CO2 prices). Since the vast majority of the non-Tea-Party public understand this, that’s no doubt one reason they strongly support pricing or taxing pollution.

Here are some charts from the study:



In many respects the public is far ahead of the political system, in part because the GOP’s national leadership are in the thrall of the Tea Party and its pollutocrat backers — and in part because of the fecklessness of many progressive leaders on this issue.

Perhaps the President has finally noticed all of the extreme weather and all of the polling making clear that climate change and clean energy are both wedge issues (see “Obama Stunner: Climate Change Will Be A Campaign Issue, We Need to Do Much More To Combat It“).

Related polling posts:

14 Responses to Poll: 75 Percent of Americans Support Regulating CO2 As A Pollutant, 60 Percent Support Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax

  1. Raul M. says:

    Does equal amount of tax increase and reduction include checks to the persons who would pay more in additional carbon taxes than they would pay in income taxes. With some finding loopholes and high carbon expenditures there seems to be much “let me just hold your money for you” rather than a viable program to reduce the carbon seeking activities.

  2. Sasparilla says:

    Its really nice to see that most of the country and its citizenry are guided by very commonsense instincts on these issues. This kind of data along with the poling data on climate change definitely helps in knowing most of the population in the U.S. is actually in good places on these issues. The problem isn’t the people, its the lobbying / corruption in Washington that’s preventing change from moving forward.

    I’d push for a 100% fee-bate CO2 price with all proceeds being divided equally among the citizenry (to keep things simple – Obama can say he’s for small govt. – and benefit the folks who use the least CO2) – that is something I think Obama could successfully defend and capitalize on to the public against GOP / fossil fuel attacks. But all of that isn’t likely to happen.

  3. Raul M. says:

    There might even be a long chain of companies that would practice the “Let me hold your money for you” before the IRS would get the carbon taxes and then they would “progressively” hold the money for less amounts of time till it’s tax return day. The companies with tax forgiveness might get even a larger windfall.
    I’m not sure that average Americans would respond with seeking other forms of energy sources. How does that part of the suggestion work? Is it just that there would be an extra monies at refund time that somehow without exorbitant advertising we would remember to do clean energy seeking.

  4. M Tucker says:

    And yet the voters keep sending people to congress who oppose clean energy investment and GHG regulations. So something is either wrong with the polling or it is just further proof that Republicans consistently vote against their own best interests and even against their convictions.

  5. BillD says:

    I am assuming that this recent poll was during April. I think that a lot of people were shocked by the March heat wave and made the connection, even though the news media were incredibly weak in making the link with climate change.

  6. Peter Anderson says:

    Is this result better than in recent years when our numbers were falling?

    Obviously, yes.

    But, on the other hand, do these numbers and their upward trend line (possibly boosted by March’s heat wave) hand us a political elixir to the promised land.

    Unfortunately, not.

    First, politics measures intensity, not numbers, and there the verdict is far less sanguine:

    “72 percent of Americans think that global warming should be a

    VERY HIGH (12%)

    high (28%), or medium (32%) priority for the president and Congress. Among registered voters, 84 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents, and 52 percent of Republicans think global warming should be a priority.”

    And, the actual words used in the carbon tax question were quite likely too confusing to have been understood by many of the poll’s respondents.

    Second, politics is a dynamic not a static scrimmage – you need to look ahead five chess moves ahead to know where you really stand. Here, if we actually were to see real movement to pricing carbon as high as needed to avert crossing irreversible tipping points, the price at the pump would fly past five bucks a gallon, at which point the fossil industry’s battalions would counterattack en masse and, I daresay, even our most ardent legislators would run for the hills.

    Bottom line: double those Mason numbers, and what do you get? Sixteen tons and another day wasted.

    All that would translate into, at best, would be a milquetoast version of the 2009 House Cap and Trade Bill, which was carefully crafted to, in the end, not bite, and not worth a bucket of warm spit.

    Progress, if there is to be any, lies in implementing effective organizing strategy, after first exploring and testing many options to find out which works on the ground, not in dwelling on polling tea leaves.

    In that, drawing too much comfort from polls distracts our eyes from the prize.

  7. Dick Smith says:

    You just described HR 3242,the Save Our Climate Act (SOCA). $10 per ton on CO2 emissions to start, increasing by $10 per ton per year until we’re 80% below 1990 emissions. Starting in the second year, all but $10 per ton is rebated to on a per capita basis (the $10 per ton is directed to deficit reduction–totalling about $500 billion in 10 years).

    Tell your congressman to sign on to the bill.

  8. SecularAnimist says:

    Who cares what 75 percent or 60 percent of Americans support?

    What matters is what the fossil fuel corporations, with tens of millions of dollars per year to spend on lobbying and bribes (a.k.a. campaign contributions), support.

  9. Dan Ives says:

    This polling confirms (along with polling on many other issues) that the country is still desperately hungry for left-wing reforms, as the 2006 and 2008 elections revealed.

    Sadly, I put the odds around 0% that the Democratic Party – including Obama – will stop ignoring this mandate and the continued polling showing the public’s desire for progressive policy.

  10. Evan Ravitz says:

    I think BillD’s right that the March heat wave awoke many from their denial. This would be GREAT news if govt represented the majority. The most shovel-ready project for more direct democracy in the US is led by famed former Senator Mike Gravel: In 1997 the numbers were similar to now: But because we DIDN’T have direct democracy, that moment was lost, and disempowered people became prey to propaganda.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    I think the poling is correct, but climate change and green energy aren’t the deciding factors for the majority of the population when they choose to vote someone in / out – its a “nice to have” for most folks – hence you get the Koch controlled GOP and plenty of Democratic fossil fuel turncoats.

    Now if NY City and Washington DC were disapearing under the waves or we had a heat outbreak in the summer that killed off much of the food crop – then climate change and green energy would be a primary decider and all the politicians would bow at the altar… JMHO…

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Thanks for the pointer Dan. I’ll send off a note to my Rep – who unfortunately is a tea party member that unexpectedly defeated the Democratic representative I had back in 2010.

  13. Ronbo says:

    The problem with these numbers are that they don’t translate in to votes. The people most likely to be concerned with climate change and negative external costs to fossil fuels are in the demographics that don’t vote much, while the ones who believe green initiatives are bad for the economy are in the categories that vote in the highest numbers.

    Add to the the Senate problem – the people who oppose a CO2 tax and other green initiatives are concentrated in the low population rural states, where they have an outsized voice in the Senate.

    The final hurdle is that people tend to not trust government to really make a carbon tax revenue neutral. Its one of those things that’s easy to love in theory and easy to believe Congress would muck up in practice.

  14. Go meet him in person. I know it sounds crazy, but this is exactly what needs to happen if we’re going to turn this thing around. We need to have in-person meetings with our Reps and Senators no matter their political allegiance, and connect with them personally. This is what we can do to build the political will. See Citizen’s Climate Lobby for more.