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ABC-WP Poll: Clear majority of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of global warming and support greenhouse gas regulation even if raises their energy bills — even if China and India do less

This post is by Daniel J. Weiss, Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

On the eve of the vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, expected Friday (or early Saturday), the Washington Post-ABC News just released a poll that found strong support among Americans for action to reduce global warming pollution. Despite conservative loud and misleading opposition to the bill, a global warming reduction plan has widespread public support.

The poll respondents also gave President Obama high marks for his efforts to address this problem. President Obama’s net ratings on this issue — net 28% approve — is his second strongest issue after international affairs. He has a higher approval rating on global warming than on health care or the economy, among other issues.

Respondents were asked whether “government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming?” By more than 3–1, Americans felt that the Federal government should “regulate” the release of greenhouse gas pollution. And the respondents who felt strongly about it favored action by 4–1.

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These findings are particularly significant given that the wording of the question was biased against action since it asked about the regulation of greenhouse gases. Regulate and its derivatives are hot buttons for many Americans. And the bill American Clean Energy and Security Act is not a strict regulatory bill because it includes a “cap and trade” mechanism that relies on the market place to set prices on emissions reductions, and allows companies to offset their emissions by paying farmers and others to store carbon pollution instead.

There is lower support for a “cap and trade” system, with only a 10 percent net support. This lower support reflects the general lack of knowledge about how a cap and trade system works. People support the end — lower pollution — but do not focus on the means — a cap and trade system. It would be like asking people if they supported the “S-CHIP” program rather than whether they supported health care for children.

Another reason for relatively low support is that other opinion research found that respondents believe that companies should not be able to buy the “right to pollute.” And in the wake of the 2008 collapse of the financial markets, many people don’t believe that the government would do an adequate job policing the trades. Nonetheless, there is net positive support for this mechanism.

The poll asked respondents if they would be willing to pay an extra $10 a month in higher electricity bills to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. There were willing to do so by a net of 14 percent. This could be purely hypothetical. EPA’s analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act estimates the bill’s energy efficiency provisions would lower utility bills by 7% or an average of $7 per month.

Some conservatives argue that the United States should not act to reduce its global warming pollution until other countries — such as China and India — do so as well. An overwhelming number of respondents — 59 percent — reject this argument. These people understand that investments in clean energy would create jobs, cut oil use, reduce pollution, and enhance our economic competitiveness.

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These results show that the American people want to the United States to act to reduce global warming pollution and are willing to pay for it. And they want us to lead regardless of what other countries do. When they vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act on Friday, members of the House of Representatives would do well to reject big oil and big coal’s arguments, and instead heed public opinion.

Washington Post-ABC News PollThis Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone June 18–21, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

*= less than 0.5 percent

2. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling [ITEM]? (IF ITEM A,B,C) Do you approve/disapprove strongly or somewhat?

ApproveDisapproveNo opiniona. The economy56413b. Health care53399c. The federal budget deficit48485d. International affairs61327e. Global warming542817f. The threat of terrorism57367g. The situation with Iran523612h. The situation involving thebig U.S. automakers4550533. On another subject, do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?Total ShouldStrongly ShouldSomewhat ShouldTotal Should notSomewhat should notStrongly should notNo Opinion6/21/097553222291334/24/0975542121912433a. (IF SHOULD REGULATE) What if it raised the price of things you buy — in that case do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases?ShouldShould notNo opinion6/21/098018234. There’s a proposed system called “cap and trade.” The government would issue permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. Companies that did not use all their permits could sell them to other companies. The idea is that many companies would find ways to put out less greenhouse gases, because that would be cheaper than buying permits. Would you support or oppose this system?SupportOpposeNo opinion6/21/09524267/28/085934735. (HALF SAMPLE) What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 10 dollars a month — in that case would you support or oppose it?SupportOpposeNo opinion6/21/09564227/28/085741236. (HALF SAMPLE) What if a cap and trade program significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly electrical bill by 25 dollars a month — in that case would you support or oppose it?SupportOpposeNo opinion6/21/09445417/28/084751237. Do you think the United States should take action on global warming only if other major industrial countries such as China and India agree to do equally effective things, that the United States should take action even if these other countries do less, or that the United States should not take action on this at all?Take action only if other countries doTake action even if other countries do lessShould not take action at allno opinion6/21/0920591837/28/081868132