The analysis of environmental polls and surveys conducted in the US often focus on the political split between Democrats and Republicans. Unsurprisingly, really, given the public divide between the two parties and the almost Messianic qualities attributed to any one particular candidate, qualities that are as easily described as satanic by the opposition.
So it was a bit of a surprise the other day when a recent survey conducted by the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at George Mason University of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents found that a majority of respondents — 62% — said they felt America should be taking steps to address climate change.
In fact, more than three out of four survey respondents said that the United States should be using more renewable energy sources, and that those renewable sources should be implemented immediately.
“Over the past few years, our surveys have shown that a growing number of Republicans want to see Congress do more to address climate change,” said Mason professor Edward Maibach, director of 4C. “In this survey, we asked a broader set of questions to see if we could better understand how Republicans, and Independents who have a tendency to vote Republican, think about America’s energy and climate change situation.”
However, conversely, analysis from Gallup’s annual Environmental poll continue to flow out, and their numbers show a different story.
Gallup: Older Republican Males Favour Economic Priority
Following the Gallup Environmental poll has been a particularly favourite hobby for me, especially as an Australian looking in to the United States perception of climate change, global warming, and climate science as a whole.
Conducted over March 7 to 10, this year’s Environmental poll has already revealed that Americans believe that temperatures have not been any warmer than usual. As they are want to do, Gallup slowly trickle their findings out over a few weeks, and this week they revealed that more Americans are desirous of protecting the economy rather than the environment.
In the graph above you can see the fall and rise of the environment and economy respectively, and where they now sit. Unsurprisingly, in years following the economic recession, the economy has grown to be a priority, however one could look at the graph and hope there is a change in the air as we steer further and further away from economic collapse.
The split this year shows 48% of Americans want to prioritise economise growth over 43% who favour environmental protection. The questions were specifically tailored as well, asking whether respondents preferred protecting the environment “even at the risk of curbing economic growth” or prioritising economic growth “even if the environment suffers to some extent.”
Gallup Editor-in-Chief Dr. Frank Newport puts these stats into perspective in the video below.
Environmental protection has suffered — at least in the public consciousness — ever since the economic collapse of 2008, with one exception. A poll conducted soon after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico showed that the perception of Americans shifted towards environmental protection for a short period of time.
Paring the results of the survey down further, we see that Democrats favour environmental protection (55% of respondents) compared to Republicans (68%) and Independents (48%) who both favour economic growth.
Gallup’s bottom line is that “for many Americans, focusing on environmental concerns may seem like a luxury the US cannot afford in tough economic times.”
4C: Republicans Favour Addressing Climate Change
So what does all of this Gallup analysis mean for 4C’s survey?
The nationally representative survey, conducted in January, surveyed 726 adults who self-identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning Independents. As Maibach said, they “asked a broader set of questions” in an attempt to understand their respondents.
The questions asked were indeed of greater scope than those asked by Gallup, and much less confrontational. For example, respondents were first asked to identify what word they use to refer to oil, coal, and natural gas, and then asked the same question for solar, wind, and geothermal energy.
Only 22% of respondents said that the US should use more fossil fuels, while 51% said we should use less (hiding in the middle was a group of 19% who said the US should use the same amount as today).
When asked whether the US should use renewable energy less, more, or the same, 77% said that they wanted the US to use more, while only 8% and 9% answered same or less, respectively.
One possible motivator for the desire to move away from renewable energy was asked later on in the survey, when 48% of respondents said that reducing fossil fuel use would help free the country from dependence on foreign oil.
In their press release, George Mason University highlighted several of these additional findings, including this one which I found to be particularly interesting:
Only one third of respondents agree with the Republican Party’s position on climate change, while about half agree with the party’s position on how to meet America’s energy needs.
The specific results bear this out, with only 9% of respondents “strongly agreeing” with the Republican Party’s position on the issue of climate change (though 25% “moderately agreed” and 34% “neither agreed or disagreed”).
“The findings from this survey suggest there is considerable support among conservatives for accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean renewable forms of energy, and for taking steps to address climate change,” said Maibach. “Perhaps the most surprising finding, however, is how few of our survey respondents agreed with the Republican Party’s current position on climate change.”
Gallup versus 4C: Conclusions
As with any polling data, the results and analysis have to be well studied to understand exactly what is being said by the population. Representative surveys are just that — representative — but the headline-grabbing selections from the analyses often misrepresent the real data.
When confronted with a do-or-die situation, it would appear that many Americans choose economy over the environment. It’s a natural inclination, and plays upon the selfish-desire of all humans — not just Republicans. Considering that 35% of Democrats asked environment or economy answered economy and 27% of Republicans answered environment, reading further is often beneficial to understanding just what is being said.
The Republicans surveyed in the 4C poll were not presented with such a do-or-die scenario — were rather presented with a more holistic picture of the future of economic growth and environmental protection. The questions were not quite so black and white as the Gallup questions appear to be, and as a result the allowance for intelligent thinking played out in the answers.
While when it comes down to the crunch, Republicans are more wholly in favour of economic growth at the detriment to the environment, given a more realistic interpretation of how events might play out, increasing the use of renewable energies, minimising the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and a more sensible approach to the science of climate change are desired traits many want from their party.