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Americans Want The Government To Act On Climate Change. What’s The Hold-Up?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

As President Biden and other Democrats work to pass an omnibus budget bill, members of the party are at odds over the topline spending number, with figures ranging between $1.5 trillion to $3.5 trillion. Biden has said it’s likely the bill will end up in the $2 trillion range, which means progressives’ priorities will surely be shrunk, cut or reworked. Progressive lawmakers have signaled that they’re open to compromise, but some are warning that there’s at least one area they’ll refuse to give ground on: climate-related provisions.

Climate change could thus prove to be one of the main sticking points between progressives and centrists in the party. From the progressives’ point of view, the reconciliation bill appears to be the federal government’s best shot at tackling the rapidly escalating climate crisis in the near future. And New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that climate provisions are not something Congress can “kick down the line.” Meanwhile, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the key centrists needed to pass the bill who has already successfully blocked some of Biden’s priority items, has said that he opposes the current bill’s primary climate provision: paying utilities to switch to clean energy.

So where does the public stand on combating climate change? Even before recent devastating weather events, Americans have long said that the federal government wasn’t doing enough. And polls now suggest that public opinion is more on the side of progressives. But the big caveat here is how Americans prioritize action on climate change versus other issues.

Why Republicans are starting to make their own climate agenda

Overall, a majority of Americans want action on climate. According to a newly released survey from Monmouth University, 60 percent of U.S. adults said that climate change was “very” or “extremely” important for the federal government to address. Furthermore, 56 percent of U.S. adults said climate change was a “very serious” problem — up from 41 percent in the same poll in December 2015. A recent study from Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of U.S. adults said they were worried about the personal impacts of climate change. 

Republican lawmakers have become slightly more open to climate proposals, but there’s still a big partisan divide on the issue. Monmouth found only 30 percent of Republicans said they supported government action on climate change, versus 92 percent of Democrats. A Gallup survey released earlier this week yielded similar results. Combining survey data from 2017 to 2021, Gallup found that 65 percent of U.S. adults said they “worry a great deal” or a “fair amount” about global warming. Among Democrats, that number jumped to 91 percent; among Republicans, it was only 32 percent. 

Other surveys, though, suggest there’s widespread support for enacting specific federal policies to combat climate change. Per a 2020 survey from Pew, 79 percent of U.S. adults said their country should prioritize developing alternative sources of energy. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats supported providing businesses with a tax credit if they developed carbon capture/storage, while 64 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats said they wanted tougher restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants. In fact, a majority of Republicans — and an overwhelming majority of Democrats — favored all five climate policies that Pew asked about.

A satellite shot of a hurricane kind of blown out and tinted purple.

related: Why Past Hurricane Seasons Don’t Tell Us Much About The Future Read more. »

On top of that, recent research has also shown that the budget bill’s climate-related proposals are wildly popular with the public. According to a study from the University of Maryland, which analyzed several polls on proposals in the reconciliation budget, 85 percent of registered voters supported reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps and 83 percent supported the creation of a jobs program hiring unemployed coal workers to close down coal mines and remediate the landscape.

But here’s the catch: While Americans believe tackling climate change is important, that doesn’t mean they see it as the most important issue. In the Monmouth survey mentioned earlier, issues like jobs and unemployment (77 percent), the COVID-19 pandemic (72 percent) and racial inequality (65 percent) topped Americans’ list of “extremely important” or “very important” concerns for the federal government to address. A Politico/Harvard poll conducted in mid-September found that climate-related spending did not land in the top five “extremely important” issues that U.S. adults wanted included in the budget bill. The highest-priority climate-related issue — increasing spending on conservation efforts to curb wildfires and carbon emissions — came in at sixth place, while a policy to encourage people to buy electric cars ranked dead last in the list of 20 priorities.

Politics to address climate change will need to overcome other obstacles as well. The oil and gas industry is lobbying against some of the bill’s climate-related proposals, for example. And Manchin, who will need to sign off on the bill’s final language, represents West Virginia, which is among the nation’s top producers of coal and natural gas. He is currently the top recipient of campaign donations from the coal, mining and oil and gas industries, per OpenSecrets. He also has personal financial stakes in the fossil fuel industry.

For now, though, considering that progressive Democrats successfully stopped the infrastructure bill from passing last week, it’s notable that they’re already drawing another line in the sand on the spending bill. We’ll be keeping an eye out for what gets cut and what goes into the final bill. 

Other polling bites 

  • A Pew Research Center survey from September found that 67 percent of Republicans would like to see former President Donald Trump remain as a major national political figure. That’s up 10 percentage points from a poll conducted by Pew just after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
  • A recent Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll showed a tied race for Virginia’s upcoming gubernatorial election, with 49 percent of likely voters supporting Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 49 percent supporting Republican Glenn Youngkin. FiveThirtyEight’s updating average of Virginia governor polls currently has McAuliffe at 47.5 percent and Youngkin at 45 percent.1
  • Americans want to get spooky again this Halloween. Per a new Morning Consult poll, 56 percent of adults said they planned to celebrate Halloween this year, up 14 points from those who planned to celebrate in 2020. This year’s share of celebrating adults is more in line with pre-COVID-19 levels — 57 percent of surveyed Americans said they celebrated Halloween in 2019.
  • A majority of Americans view both major political parties unfavorably. Per a recently released Gallup poll, 55 percent of surveyed adults said they had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party and 56 percent an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. That being said, the GOP’s favorability rating (now 40 percent) increased 3 points between January and September, while the Democratic Party’s favorability (now 43 percent) dropped by 5 points during the same time period.
  • Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s popularity may be suffering from her opposition to the Democrats’ proposed spending bill, according to a new Morning Consult poll. Sinema’s approval among Arizona voters dropped 6 percentage points since the start of the year, from 48 percent to 42 percent. This drop left voter disapproval of Sinema equal to voter approval of her, at 42 percent. Sinema’s disapproval rating among Democrats dropped 20 points from the beginning of the year, to 40 percent now. But her disapproval among Democrats was somewhat offset by her improved approval rating among Republicans, which increased by 9 points.
  • As President Biden and the Democrats continue to negotiate the reconciliation bill — and hold off voting on the bipartisan infrastructure bill — approval of how Biden has handled rebuilding the country’s infrastructure has dipped, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. A majority of Americans (55 percent) approved of Biden’s handling of U.S. infrastructure, but that’s down 7 points since August. Democrats are hoping to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill by the end of October.
  • Facebook paused its development of Instagram Kids — a version of the app made specifically for children under 13 years old. The Sept. 27 pause followed the leak of internal studies — by recently revealed whistleblower Frances Haugen — that had found that Instagram was negatively affecting the mental health of teen girls. For some parents, the pause of Instagram Kids may come as a relief. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 53 percent of parents with kids aged 5 to 13 either strongly or somewhat opposed the creation of Instagram Kids. Additionally, 87 percent of those parents said they were concerned about the impact of social media on the mental health of children.
  • A small majority of American adults (51 percent) said there shouldn’t be more government regulation for social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Sixty-one percent of Republicans agreed with this sentiment, while 59 percent of Democrats disagreed and thought there should be more regulation of these platforms, per a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 44.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 48.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -4.1 points).2 At this time last week, 44.8 percent approved and 48.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -3.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 45.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 49.1 percent (a net approval rating of -4.1 points).

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead Republicans by 2.8 percentage points (44.7 percent to 41.9 percent, respectively).3 A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 3.3 points (45.0 percent to 41.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats over Republicans by 2.8 points (43.9 percent to 41.0 percent).

UPDATE (Oct. 8, 2021, 9:34 a.m.): The “polling bite” on the Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll of Virginia’s governor’s race has been updated to use the survey results including “leaners” (respondents who don’t initially express a candidate preference but then do when nudged by the pollster). Including leaners, the poll found a 49-49 tie; without leaners, McAuliffe had 49 percent and Youngkin 48 percent.

A majority of Americans think climate change should be a political priority

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  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  3. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Alex Samuels was a politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight.

Mackenzie Wilkes was a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.