Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

A new study from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication showed that climate policy is important to voters as the Nov. 3 election approaches.

The study polled over 2,047 registered voters in the United States between Sep. 30 and Oct. 1, 2020 and found that 82 percent of the voters polled “say achieving 100% clean energy should be the primary goal of U.S. Energy policy,” according to a statement released by the YPCCC. The survey was conducted in partnership with the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication as well as Climate Nexus, an independent communications group focused on studying and publicizing the impact of climate change.

Researchers and students told the News that the survey’s results reflect a rise in public awareness around renewable energy sources and the increasing extent to which voters consider climate policy when deciding how to cast their votes. 

“These findings are consistent with recent polls emphasizing the breadth of public support for climate action — and therefore highlight the persistent gap between political inaction on climate change at the federal level and public concern over the issue,” said Matto Mildenberger, a research affiliate with the YPCCC and an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

 

Visualizations by Ashley Qin, Data Editor

Of the voters surveyed, 63 percent agreed that the U.S. should prioritize the development of renewable energy sources when addressing the country’s energy needs. Fifteen percent advocated for the prioritization of gas energy sources, and nine percent favored expansion of nuclear energy. 

“There has been a dramatic increase in public concern about climate change over the past five years,” said Ed Maibach, director of the George Mason center, which has been conducting studies in collaboration with the YPCCC for 13 years. “Increasingly large numbers of voters are coming to understand that the best way to take action to protect our climate is to vote for candidates who will defend our climate.”

Maibach added that registered voters in the U.S. place a high premium on environmental protection, in part because “most Americans believe that protecting our environment is the best strategy for ensuring that we will also have a healthy economy.”

Indeed, the poll found that 65 percent of the voters surveyed agreed that full decarbonization of the economy — specifically, the elimination of fossil fuel emissions from “the transportation, electricity, buildings, industry and agricultural sectors” — would positively influence both the economy and national employment.

The trends found in this study could play a decisive role in the results of the upcoming general election. Maibach noted that the YPCCC, the George Mason center and Climate Nexus have conducted “many more surveys than usual because the issues of climate change and clean energy appear to be playing a much more important role in the elections than ever before.”

Of the voters surveyed, 54 percent agreed that “they would be more likely to vote for candidates who support providing federal financial bailouts to the renewable energy industry,” while 62 percent said that they would be more likely to vote for candidates that back economic stimuli prioritizing “investments in clean energy infrastructure.”

According to Co-President of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition Jamie Chan ’23, “these results show that the public sentiment is there for stronger climate action, and so the biggest barrier is really partisan politics and the politicization of climate change.”

Mildenberger, however, asserted his belief that the implications of this study on the development of climate policy are dependent on the results of the election, noting that “if the Democrats have a good showing, there is a real possibility that the public would support ambitious climate action early in 2021.”

Executive Chair of YSEC Katie Schlick ’22 pointed out the survey’s focus on core policies of the Green New Deal proposed in February of 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA.

“When you phrase [these policies] in a bipartisan way, they seem to be much more palatable to a broader voter base,” Schlick said. “I think this study serves as a good indicator for how important it is to communicate about climate issues and policy across the aisle — this is not about Republican or Democrat but about the future of our planet and everyone on it. The science says what the science says, and the science is telling us to act now.”

According to the Pew Research Center, about 80 percent of the nation’s energy came from non-renewable sources as of 2018.

Lucy Hodgman | lucy.hodgman@yale.edu