In the weeks following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, researchers at Yale and George Mason University conducted a survey of President Donald Trump voters’ views on climate change, finding that most of them supported some kind of action against climate change.
This survey is part of a long-running project called Climate Change in the American Mind, run by the Yale Project on Climate Change, which aims to ascertain and document American attitudes regarding global warming. The set of questions was designed prior to the election and investigates the assumption that supporters of Trump neither believe in climate change nor support action to combat it, said Matthew Cutler, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and co-author of the study.
The researchers interviewed citizens nationwide, on issues ranging from pollution regulations to the transition to clean energy. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump made statements indicating his disbelief in climate change that concerned many scientists in the field, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the YPCC and the study’s lead author.
“Based on the statements he made during the campaign and his picks for various offices, the [Environmental Protection Agency], [Department of the Interior] and the [Department of Energy], it’s clear that he has a pretty hostile view toward climate change action,” Leiserowitz said.
The researchers conducted interviews of Americans of all backgrounds across the nation. Of the 401 Trump supporters interviewed, 49 percent believe global warming is happening and an additional 21 percent answered “don’t know.” Trump has repeatedly indicated his disbelief in climate change in the past, often referring to it as a “hoax.” Forty-seven percent of Trump supporters answered that the U.S. should participate in an international agreement to limit global warming, with an additional 25 percent who were unsure. More than 60 percent support taxing and/or regulating pollution. Trump has threatened to rescind regulations on pollutants, and possibly cancel U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change, Leiserowitz said.
These inconsistencies suggest a gap between the president’s agenda and the beliefs of his supporters, he added.
“The main finding for the survey is that Trump voters are more supportive of climate action — and much more supportive of clean energy — than most people might have assumed,” said Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “I suspect even Mr. Trump would be surprised by this finding.”
Voting populations are not monolithic groups, even though the pervasiveness of partisan politics seems to suggest just that, Cutler said. Voters had different reasons for supporting Trump, many of which were not related to the climate. Even though Trump’s positions on climate change action seem unfavorable at this early date in his presidency, Cutler said a sizable majority of Trump supporters believe that there should be some action to combat climate change, whether by tax or regulation of pollutants.
While the Republican Party has traditionally been associated with a more skeptical view of climate change, some Republican politicians have addressed the issue and proposed potential solutions. A group of veteran Republican statesmen, including former Secretary of State James Baker, have proposed a carbon tax in order to reduce emissions, Leiserowitz said.
However, with congressional Republicans and Trump committed to cutting back regulations on emissions and fossil fuels, it remains unlikely that politicians will pass climate change legislation.