Most Americans Agree About Global Warming, But Not Congress

By Wendy Koch

The vast majority of Americans in each of 40-plus states surveyed say global warming is real, serious and man-made, and the concerns tend to be slightly higher in coastal or drought-stricken areas, says an analysis out today.

At least 75% of U.S. adults say global warming has been happening, but the Stanford University research found that 84% or more took that view in states recently hit by drought — Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — or vulnerable to sea-level rise: Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

Public Agreement Vs. Congress’ Continuing “Debate”

Despite intense debate in Congress on global warming, the research found broad public agreement on the issue and its remedies. Most say past warming has been caused largely by human activities — ranging from a low of 65% in Utah to a high of 92% in Rhode Island. Most also back government curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — from 62% in Utah to 90% in New Hampshire.

“The consistency of findings across states was especially surprising to me,” says author and professor Jon Krosnick, director of Stanford’s Political Psychology Research Group, adding the analysis is likely the first to offer state-by-state breakdowns. He plans to release the findings today on Capitol Hill.

Global warming remains controversial. [In November, 2013], representatives of more than 100 nations gathered in Warsaw for the United Nations’ annual talks on how to deal with climate change. [Also in November], the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power [held] a hearing on legislation that would thwart proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected [this] year to finalize these rules and also propose limits for existing power plants.

Tea Party Republicans’ View A Small Minority View — Again

Krosnick says the data, based on 23 surveys — mostly by Stanford — suggest members of Congress who question global warming or oppose EPA power plant rules may not have an accurate view of what their constituents want.

“This is still a politically divisive issue,” says Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. He says just because most constituents want action doesn’t mean a lawmaker’s political base does. A national Pew poll [in October of 2013] found that while 67% of Americans say there’s solid evidence the earth has been warming, the GOP is deeply divided. Just 25% of Tea Party Republicans say there’s such evidence compared to 61% of other Republicans.

Dimock welcomes Stanford’s state-by-state approach. He says that its overall findings are consistent with national polling though it finds more Americans believe global warming is man-made. Pew’s recent survey found 44% take that view.

U.S. Should Take Action

Stanford’s analysis looks at opinion on 22 questions, some of which had sufficient data from all but four states — Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota and Wyoming. It finds that in every state surveyed, most Americans support tax breaks to produce renewable energy and reduce air pollution from coal as well as efforts to boost energy efficiency for cars, appliances and buildings.

Less popular were government policies to encourage the building of electric vehicles and nuclear power plants. Most unpopular were higher consumption taxes on electricity and gasoline. Higher gas taxes won support from as few as 15% of adults in Idaho, South Carolina and Utah and as many as 42% in Colorado.

“Majorities consistently said that the U.S. should take action regardless of what other countries do,” Krosnick says, noting that support for this view fell below 50% in only one state surveyed — Utah.Φ

Click here for article and state-by-state survey results. And see a related story titled How climate change will affect the Southeast USA.

Wendy Koch takes a multimedia lens to energy and environmental issues. She joined USA TODAY in 1998 and has also served as its morning editor and Congressional reporter.

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