Americans Are Well Aware Of Climate Change — But Not About The Government’s Efforts To Fight It

Americans Are Well Aware Of Climate Change — But Not About The Government’s Efforts To Fight It

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


In most parts of the country, the truth has been inescapable this summer. As the U.S. suffers through heat waves, wildfires and droughts, climate change feels right at our doorstep (and for those of us without air conditioning, doubly so). While climate change is not solely responsible for these harsh weather conditions, it has made them more frequent and more severe. And Americans say they are feeling it. 

A majority of Americans — 71 percent — said their local community has endured at least one of five forms of extreme weather over the last year: heat, flooding, drought, wildfires or rising sea levels, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center conducted in May. And regardless of the type experienced, a majority of those who had faced such weather said climate change played a role. This is true even among Republicans, who are generally less likely to believe climate change is happening. For Republicans who said their local community had experienced extreme heat, for example, 79 percent said climate change contributed a lot or a little, while 21 percent said climate change did not contribute at all.

Whether or not they’ve experienced it firsthand, most Americans are worried about climate change. In a Morning Consult poll from July, 73 percent of Americans said they were at least somewhat concerned about climate change, including 39 percent who said they were very concerned. However, in this case, public opinion is split along partisan lines. While 91 percent of Democrats said they were very or somewhat concerned about climate change, fewer than half — 47 percent — of Republicans said the same.

Clearly, many Americans are feeling the heat and understand its causes. But what are they willing to do about it? Well, many are taking matters into their own hands and trying to make more climate-friendly choices in their personal lives. In that Morning Consult poll, 61 percent of Americans said they had changed their behavior “some” or “a lot” because of concerns about the environment. Democrats and younger Americans were more likely to say they’d changed their behavior. Sixty-six percent of Gen Z respondents said they’d changed behavior, compared with 60 percent of baby boomers and 59 percent of Gen Xers. Fewer than half of all respondents said that they stay away from single-use packaging or that they buy items with limited to no packaging. But most Americans said they recycle, use refillable water bottles, restrict their use of plastics and buy items made of recyclable materials because of concerns over the environment.

Yet, while they’re willing to make these small changes, many Americans are pessimistic about how much impact individual climate-conscious decisions actually have. Just 52 percent of Americans said their actions have an effect on climate change, according to an Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in June. That’s down from 66 percent in 2019. And when asked who has “a great deal” or “a lot” of responsibility for addressing climate change, 45 percent of Americans said individual people did. In comparison, 63 percent said the federal government did. 

And there’s substantial agreement among Americans over what the federal government can and should do to address climate change, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll from earlier this month. A majority of Americans supported measures such as incentives to lower the cost of renewable energy and using government funds to promote oil and gas companies to reduce emissions. These policies are popular even among Republicans: 53 percent of Republicans supported the cost-lowering incentives and 50 percent supported funding to lower emissions from oil and gas companies.

Funnily enough, the federal government has already done both of those things — they were provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law on Tuesday. It’s the most aggressive climate-change law the country has ever enacted, yet many Americans appear unfamiliar with it. In that same Reuters/Ipsos poll, which was conducted a few days before the bill passed the Senate, just 41 percent of Americans said they were familiar with the legislation. So while the effects of climate change have been hard for Americans to ignore this summer, efforts to fight it have been easier to miss.

Other polling bites 

  • Given a list of 11 political topics, Americans were most likely to have shifted their stance on foreign policy, according to an Aug. 3-5 YouGov survey. Forty-two percent named foreign policy, with drug policy (40 percent) and health care (35 percent) not far behind. The least-chosen issue was free speech, at 17 percent. Most Americans (78 percent) reported changing opinions on one or more of the issues, but that figure varied widely by ideology: Very liberal (90 percent), liberal (86 percent) and moderate (83 percent) Americans reported a shift at higher rates than their conservative (76 percent) and very conservative (63 percent) counterparts.
  • An Aug. 10-16 CivicScience survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 adults under age 25 (18 percent) turned to TikTok first when online shopping. That’s a much larger share than Americans overall (9 percent) or even Americans ages 25 to 34 (9 percent), according to a concurrent CivicScience survey conducted Aug. 10-15. That second survey counted Amazon as the preferred starting point for Americans researching a new purchase, at 46 percent, and Google was a clear No. 2 at 35 percent.
  • Texas smoked the competition in a YouGov survey asking Americans which states they associate with having good barbecue — 73 percent chose the Lone Star State, compared with its closest competitor, Tennessee, at 37 percent. The poll, conducted July 28-31, posed the same question for a list of 19 cities, and three of the top four were in Texas: Dallas (41 percent), Austin (38 percent) and Houston (37 percent) were highest alongside Memphis, Tennessee (38 percent). This matches YouGov/Huffington Post polling from July 2020 that found Texas-style barbecue as Americans’ favorite regional variation (22 percent) over other types like Carolina- (10 percent) and Alabama-style (10 percent).
  • Gallup polling conducted July 5-26 found that roughly half of Americans (48 percent) have tried marijuana, a share that’s been mostly on the rise since 2013 (38 percent). While that number didn’t change much across age groups, the research found that adults under age 35 were most likely to currently smoke it (30 percent) or consume edibles (22 percent). While there were no major discrepancies among education levels or gender, political leaning was a different story: Experimenting with weed was most common among Democrats (53 percent) and independents (55 percent). Among Republicans (34 percent), the figure just wasn’t that high.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,5 40.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 54.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -14.3 percentage points). At this time last week, 40.0 percent approved and 55.4 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -15.4 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 38.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -17.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,6 Democrats currently lead Republicans by 0.5 points (43.9 percent to 43.4 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 0.2 points (43.9 percent to 43.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 1.7 points (44.6 percent to 42.9 percent).

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