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Most US voters favor climate action, but support strongest among Democrats

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Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

Essential Energy Insights September 2020

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Most US voters favor climate action, but support strongest among Democrats

Sevenin 10 U.S. voters say reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy production isa high priority, but less than half of Republicans share that view, according toa new poll.

The Programfor Public Consultation at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policyconducted the survey, which was released May 4 by nonpartisan policy group Voiceof the People. Nearly 4,400 registered adult voters participated in the online poll,held April 16-26.

Some70% of respondents, including 91% of Democrats, said cutting greenhouse gases fromthe energy sector was a high priority. Only 44% of Republicans held that view, with39% of GOP participants saying that reducing greenhouse gases was a low priorityand 17% saying it should not be a priority at all.

Supportwas similar for the U.S. EPA's CleanPower Plan, which established state-specific emissions rate limits forexisting plants starting in 2022. Seven in 10 voters backed the plan, with 9 outof 10 Democrats in favor of the regulation. Only 47% of Republican respondents supportedthe Clean Power Plan after an in-depth briefing on the rule.Prior to the briefing, only30% of all survey participants had heard of the Clean Power Plan, with 69% knowinglittle to nothing about it.

A partisandivide also emerged over tax incentives to promote more energy-efficient homes,cars and appliances. Eighty percent of Democrats, and only 45% of GOP voters, backedtax credit extensions for consumers and businesses to install fuel-efficient lighting,doors, windows and insulation, and wind and fuel cells, and to build new energy-efficienthomes. Support was stronger for higher fuel efficiency standards for light carsand trucks and heavy duty vehicles to cut emissions, which was favored by 88% ofDemocrats and 57% of Republicans.

A majorityof voters, including 74% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans, also supported statepolicies requiring electric utilities to get a minimum portion of their power fromrenewable sources. Survey participants were told about policies in 29 states thatare estimated to lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from power production by 3.6%,compared to no policy, and raise electricity prices by 1% to 2%.

In addition,many supported the government providing assistance to coal workers who lose theirjobs as a result of the Clean Power Plan, with 78% of Democrats and 59% of Republicansin favor. But enthusiasm was lower for another potential Clean Power Plan mitigationmeasure. Only 44% of voters, including 47% of Democrats and 42% of GOP participants,favored government subsidies for the development and construction of new technologiesto capture and store CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

And onlya "bare majority" of 60% supported a carbon tax, the survey results said.Nearly 80% of Democrats backed a carbon tax on companies and other sources in orderto achieve emissions reductions, but only 39% of Republicans were in favor.

Unlikea standard poll, the school conducted a "policymaking simulation" priorto the survey that treated participants as if they were lawmakers, giving them keyinformation and arguments for and against certain policies. The simulation was vettedby congressional staff members from both major parties, as well as experts fromthe EPA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the World Resources Institute, among others.

Climate not a hot button electionissue

The partisanwedge over climate action is not driving much debate in the 2016 federal elections.Climate change and energy have received little air time in Republican presidentialprimary debates. Democratic contestants Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders haveoutlined more detailed energy and climate plans, but voters are paying more attentionto broader economic and social issues.

"The2016 presidential election … doesn't seem likely to be about energy policy (pumpprices, after all, remain accommodatingly low), but it remains likely to matterfor energy policy, principally because continuity of the Obama administration'senvironmental agenda is at stake," said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearViewEnergy Partners LLC, which provides independent analysis of energy issues for investorsand companies.

Despitetheir focus on other policy issues, Republican candidates — including presumptivenominee Donald Trump —have taken time to bash President Barack Obama's regulations to reduce power sectorgreenhouse gas emissions. GOP lawmakers and industry groups succeeded in gettinga stay of the Clean PowerPlan from the U.S. Supreme Court and hope a Republican president, if elected, willstrike down the rule for good.