Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like

Most registered voters are in favor of spending trillions on weatherized buildings and renewable-energy infrastructure.

For the first time in years—and maybe ever—Democrats are getting ambitious about climate change. Several presidential candidates have proposed $1 trillion plans that variously nudge, cajole, and force the economy to reduce carbon pollution. The largest plan, from Senator Bernie Sanders, calls for $16.3 trillion in public investment over 10 years, which would be the biggest economic stimulus package since the New Deal.

Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, also told me that the poll’s findings are in line with other research. “Climate policy is very popular,” she said. “If you highlight the cost, it’s less popular. If you highlight new taxes, it’s less popular. But if you highlight job creation or the air-pollution benefits, it’s more popular.”

She added that many climate policies are especially favored now because the public tends to take views opposite those of the sitting president, a concept known as thermostatic public opinion. “With Trump being president, you’re going to find people want more environmental protection now than when Obama was in power,” she said.

These results also align with the results of conservative-leaning surveys. The American Action Network, an advocacy group tied to the House GOP, recently asked Americans in 30 congressional districts—including 12 “battleground” districts and 10 Trump-supporting districts—if they liked the idea of a “Green New Deal” that would move the United States “from an economy built on fossil fuels to one driven by clean energy.”

Shockingly, the idea was more popular than not, with 48 percent of respondents in support and 7 percent undecided. Only when pollsters told people that a Green New Deal could cost $93 trillion did support for the idea collapse. But according to the GOP group’s own math, a Green New Deal that focused only on climate change could cost only $13 trillion.

Results from the new YouGov Blue/Data for Progress poll find majority support for spending along those lines, though the poll never uses the term “Green New Deal.” Here are the five climate policies with the most support:

1. A national recycling program for commodities

During World War II, the federal government encouraged Americans to save and pool commodities—including paper, steel, and rubber—so they could be recycled and turned into new ships, planes, and guns. Sanders proposes launching a similar program today for clean energy. It would seek to reduce the cost and blunt the environmental impact of the huge buildout of wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries that he proposes.

The idea is overwhelmingly popular, with 64 percent of registered voters in support and only 16 percent opposed. Americans of every race, age, and religion overwhelmingly support the idea. So do six in ten white men, and a majority of self-described Born-Again Christians.


2. $1.3 trillion to weatherize every home and office building in the United States

At least three different Democratic climate plans—proposed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Governor Jay Inslee, and Senator Sanders—have promised to boost federal spending on weatherizing homes and buildings. Sanders’s plan calls for more than $2 trillion in grants to help families improve their homes’ energy efficiency.

The idea is very popular. Six in 10 voters support spending more than $1 trillion “to weatherize homes and buildings to make them more energy-efficient and reduce energy bills.” A smaller majority of voters older than 65 also support the proposal.

3. $1.5 trillion for a massive federal buildout of renewable energy

Sanders promises to build out enough wind, solar, and geothermal energy to power every home and business in the United States by 2030. Such a plan would cost $1.5 trillion, he says, and it would be possible to execute under the existing legal powers of the Energy Department.

While the poll didn’t ask Americans if they would support that legal maneuver, a large majority of voters said they were ready to foot the bill for it. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would strongly or somewhat support $1.5 trillion in federal spending to build out renewables. Among white voters without a college degree—a group that normally breaks Republican—the idea found 52 percent in support.


4. A climate adjustment fee on environmentally destructive imports

Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed imposing a “border carbon adjustment” on imports that required high levels of carbon emissions. This policy could help American climate policy from “offshoring” carbon pollution into China and India, supporters say, and it would encourage American cement and steelmakers to invest in greener ways to make their products.

For now, at least, Americans love the idea. Sixty percent of respondents strongly or somewhat supported the idea, while only 23 percent opposed it. (About one in five Americans still aren’t sure what to think.)

But among working-class voters, the idea was one of the most popular proposed. Fifty-five percent of people without a college degree liked the idea, a level of support that did not change across white and non-white respondents. Voters from families making less than $60,000 a year also supported the idea at about that level.

5. “Economic Nationalism for Climate Change”

This summer, Warren announced her plan for “economic patriotism,” a policy agenda that actively aims to boost American jobs and industry. Its first plank is a green manufacturing scheme that pledges $2 trillion over the next 10 years. In short, Warren seeks to revive industrial policy.

This poll asked about “economic nationalism,” which it described as a plan to “aggressively encourage large American manufacturing firms to specialize in solar panels, wind turbines, and other climate-friendly technologies.”

The proposal commands majority support, with 53 percent overall in support and 30 percent in opposition. It also wins a majority of voters who say they live in suburbs and rural areas. Among white voters without college degrees, the idea is above water at 46 percent and an 8-point support gap.

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