With the United States having re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement on Joe Biden’s first day in office and US Intelligence Director Avril Haines having promised to put the issue of climate change at the centre of US foreign policy, the current American administration is sending clear signals that addressing climate change is an important part of its agenda.
In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in the United States, we looked at what the American public thinks about environmental protection and climate change. Overall, we find that climate change is an area of concern for a substantial proportion of American voters, but we also observe clear differences in opinion along partisan lines, with Democratic voters significantly more likely to be in favour of climate action than Republican voters.
A majority (54%) of the American public agree that climate change is a direct threat to the United States, while 23% neither agree nor disagree, and 19% altogether disagree that it is a direct threat.
Young people are especially likely to say they view climate change as a direct threat to their country, with 62% of 18-to-24-year-olds expressing this view. Moreover, those who say they voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election are significantly more likely to view climate change as a direct threat to the US (78%) than those who say they voted for Donald Trump (29%).
When asked whether they could vote for a leader who has demonstrated scepticism towards climate change, a plurality of American respondents (44%) say they could not. At the same time, a significant third (32%) say they could, and a quarter (24%) say they don’t know.
Interestingly, a quarter (25%) of respondents who say they voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election also say they could not vote for a leader who has demonstrated scepticism towards climate change. Given Donald Trump’s differing approach to environmental issues in comparison to Joe Biden’s, this result might also point to the subjective nature of what Americans judge as ‘scepticism towards climate change.’ For instance, some might see his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords as ‘scepticism towards climate change,’ while others might see it as scepticism towards specific policies that seek to address climate change.
When asked about the current Government, a plurality (43%) of Americans say they approve of the Biden administration’s efforts to address climate change. On the other hand, 35% say they neither approve nor disapprove, and 22% say they disapprove.
Among those members of the public who say they disapprove, three-quarters (73%) say they do so because they think the Government’s efforts are going too far, rather than not far enough.
Regarding actions to be taken to protect the environment and combat climate change, a plurality of 49% of respondents agree that protecting the environment should be given priority, even if this is detrimental to the economy. Conversely, 22% disagree, and a further 25% neither agree nor disagree that the environment should be prioritized at the expense of the economy.
In addition to partisan fault lines—with 70% of 2020 Biden voters but only 27% of 2020 Trump voters agreeing that the environment should be given priority even in the face of detrimental economic effects—young people are also more likely to support such a prioritisation. Among 18-to-24-year-olds, 66% agree with the statement compared to only 38% of 55-to-64-year-olds, for instance.
Overall, a majority (51%) of the American public say they support President Joe Biden’s pledge to cut carbon emissions 50% below what they were in 2005 by 2030. Meanwhile, 23% oppose this pledge, and a similar proportion (21%) of American respondents say they neither support nor oppose it.
Giving more nuance to this aggregate result, stark differences are again visible along party lines. Among those who voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election, 78% of respondents say they support this pledge—compared to only 25% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump.
Similarly, Joe Biden’s decision to re-join the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is supported by half (50%) of the American public, while a quarter (25%) opposes and roughly a fifth (18%) of respondents say they neither support nor oppose this decision.
Public opinion is more split on Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL Pipeline permit. While 34% of respondents say they support this decision, an equal 34% say the oppose. 24% say they neither support nor oppose this permit revocation, and the remaining 9% say they don’t know.
Here, we again observe a clear split among partisan lines. Whereas 58% of 2020 Democratic voters support this decision, only 8% of 2020 Republican voters support the decision to revoke the Keystone XL Pipeline permit. In fact, 67% of 2020 Republican voters say they oppose this decision—with 50% strongly opposing.
Meanwhile, half of respondents (50%) think that national governments, private corporations, and the general public share an equal responsibility to act on climate change.
At the same time, a plurality of respondents (43%) say they are opposed to personally paying more in taxes to fund environmental initiatives. Only a third (31%) of Americans say they would be willing to pay more in taxes to fund such initiatives, and a further 22% say they would neither support nor oppose such a policy.
Overall, when asked to assess how the US is doing on climate change compared to other developed countries, 29% of Americans think the US is more environmentally friendly than other developed countries, with a further 25% thinking the US is just as environmentally friendly as other developed countries. Only 22% of respondents view the US as less environmentally friendly, but a significant 25% say they don’t know.
Republican voters are more likely to adopt a positive view of the US’ comparative environmental friendliness than Democratic voters: 38% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 view the US as more environmentally friendly than most other developed countries, compared to 21% of those who voted for Joe Biden. Conversely, 29% of Americans who voted for Joe Biden view the US as less environmentally friendly than other countries, compared to only 12% of those who voted for Donald Trump.
Overall, these results suggest that climate change is a concern for a plurality of American voters, with Joe Biden voters significantly more likely than Donald Trump voters to view government action on environmental protection and the fight against climate change in a favourable light.