America’s Hidden Common Ground on Climate Change: Results from a Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Snapshot Poll

January 23, 2020

Hidden Common Ground 2020 is a major initiative spearheaded by Public Agenda and USA Today, along with the National Issues Forums, the Election 2020: America Amplified Public Media Collaborative, and Ipsos. Through nonpartisan research, robust journalism, “Strange Bedfellows” storytelling, and community dialogue and events, the initiative promotes thoughtful, solutions-oriented public engagement during election season. The present snapshot survey focuses on how Americans think the country should come to terms with climate change.

First, a strong majority of Americans (72%) agree on the importance of “reducing the effects of global climate change,” a total that includes 55% of Republicans, 78% of Independents and 86% of Democrats.

More specifically, Republicans and Democrats both tend to support climate change ideas that involve increasing energy efficiencies and modernizing production processes.

  • Most Republicans (70%), Democrats (83%) and Independents (81%) support modernizing the U.S. electrical grid to reduce waste in energy production and distribution. Similarly, there is significant support for creating strong energy efficiency standards for all new and existing buildings (63% of Republicans, 82% of Democrats, and 71% of Independents).

Where opinions diverge the most is on government finances.

  • While 80% of Democrats support the U.S. government financially assisting US cities and states to fight climate change, just half of Republicans say the same. Taxing pollution like carbon dioxide and investing the resources in renewable energy is also not an ideal solution for Republicans (48%) but is for Democrats (72%).

With regards to infrastructural changes, Americans again converge on policies that introduce efficiencies for the public and begin to diverge on those that explicitly entail government spending or mandate action by business or private citizens:

  • Majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Democrats (79 percent) and Independents (75 percent) support creating a nation-wide system of low pollution, high-speed trains. But a weaker plurality of Republicans (46%) support providing government subsidies to increase the number of charging stations for electric cars and trucks, compared to 72 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents. Meanwhile, the proposal to require all new cars and trucks to be energy efficient, such as electric vehicles, is supported by 40 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Independents.

Policies that affect the average American consumer are generally less well-received across all political parties. However, those that received more support, particularly among Republicans, impact narrow segments of the population (e.g. homeowners, electric car owners):

  • A majority of Republicans (61%), Democrats (77%), and Independents (69%) support providing tax breaks or incentives to homeowners/building owners who switch to renewable sources.
  • Similarly, 59% of support providing tax breaks or incentives to people who buy electric cars or trucks.
  • Support is much lower for a policy that impacts the average American: creating a tax on the amount ordinary people pollute (24% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats, and 43% of Independents).

Overall, Americans, regardless of party affiliation, are supportive of policies that mandate recycling:

  • 69% support mandating recycling for nearly all American businesses (57% of Republicans, 80% of Democrats, and 76% of Independents).
  • 63% support mandating recycling for nearly all American households (53% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats, 72% of Independents)
  • 66% support providing government grants and tax incentives for recycling companies (60% of Republicans, 75% of Democrats, and 69% of Independents).

Hidden Common Ground 2020 is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as through a research partnership with the Kettering Foundation and by individual donors.



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