U.S. Voters' Perceptions of Climate Change and Energy Policy

Brunswick Group survey shows plurality of U.S. voters see climate change as a ‘crisis’

With the 2020 presidential election campaign heating up, Brunswick Group sought to understand:

  • What level of urgency do voters attach to climate change, and how much do they plan to factor it into their choice of a presidential candidate, relative to other issues?
  • What policies being proposed on the stump are most popular with voters when it comes to energy and climate change?

Here is what we learned when we conducted an online survey of 1,000 registered U.S. voters Dec. 3-13, 2019.

  • Plurality sees climate change as crisis …. More U.S. voters – 36% – consider climate change “a crisis” than “a significant problem” (31%) or “a challenge” (18%). Although voters were more likely to pick health care (39%) and the economy (29%) as the top two issues factoring into their vote for president, more cited climate change (28%) as key to their decision-making over immigration (21%), taxes (20%), gun policy (19%), education (12%), the Supreme Court (8%) and foreign policy (6%).
  • … but many also worry about affordability. More than two-thirds of voters surveyed (67%) say they are either very or somewhat worried about the availability of affordable energy – suggesting the national discussion about U.S. “energy abundance” hasn’t completely erased voters’ concerns about access and supply.
  • A bare majority of voters support a carbon tax; many are unsure. Fifty-one percent of voters said a tax on emissions of carbon-based fuels is a good idea. Twenty-two percent said such a tax is a bad idea; 27 percent said they were unsure.
  • A majority of voters agree the government is doing too little to stop climate change. Five in ten (55%) of voters feel the ‘federal government’ is doing too little to act on climate change. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) voters, including 60% of Independents, say the administration should not have rolled back methane regulations.
  • Modest support for Green New Deal. More than six-in-ten voters (61%) support the Green New Deal when presented as a bill calling for “for the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions to the maximum extent possible and meeting 100 percent of US power needs with clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources over a 10-year national mobilization.”
  • Trump’s brand affects how his supporters view climate policy. When told “the U.S. government” has moved to block California from regulating automobile greenhouse gas emissions, 53% of Trump supporters say the state should have that power. But when Trump supporters hear “the Trump administration” has moved to curtail California’s authority, support for the state drops; just 45% agree states should “be allowed to enact policies that meet their needs.”
  • A slim majority agree the courts should not address climate change. A majority of respondents (55%), including majorities of Independents and Republicans, said climate change is a global issue that should be addressed by policymakers, not the courts. Democrats disagree, with 55% saying U.S. cities should have the right to sue oil and gas companies (where 45% feel climate change is best addressed through government policy).
  • Subsidies, mandates and financial aid to communities are popular with voters. Extending financial incentives to encourage consumers to replace fuel-inefficient cars with zero-emission vehicles was the most popular of more than half a dozen policy proposals presented to voters as options for addressing climate change. Eighty-three percent of voters said they strongly support or somewhat support the idea. Setting stronger fuel-economy standards for cars, trucks and SUVs (81%) and providing assistance to communities losing jobs in the oil, gas and coal industries also were popular (80%).

What does this mean for corporate communications professionals in the energy sector? Here are our key takeaways:

  • Start planning your communications strategy in the event of a Blue Wave: The thrust of Trump’s policies – rolling back environmental regulations, deferring to business over regulators – is unpopular with most voters. This means a Democratic president will feel little hesitation about undoing them quickly. Companies need to be ready for questions from investors and employees about how they’ll adapt to (or capitalize on) a potentially abrupt swing in the regulatory pendulum next January.
  • Voters want to restore many of Obama’s climate & energy policies – but not necessarily go beyond them. While many voters appear to want to return to Obama’s policies, they aren’t as sold on certain measures that would go beyond Obama’s accomplishments – such as taxing carbon.
  • Perceptions of oil & gas companies are mixed, but investing in new technologies can soften public opinion. In an environment where two-thirds of American voters see oil & gas companies as responsible for climate change, companies need to clearly show what they’re doing to reduce emissions from their operations. Joining coalitions and conferences isn’t enough.

Download the full report of the findings below:

 

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