Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Fighting climate change is wildly popular, but most Americans don’t know that other people feel the same way

Molly Seltzer, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Aug. 24, 2022, 3:10 p.m. 

Just after the U.S. Congress passed the nation’s most substantial legislation aimed at battling climate change, a new study shows that the average American dramatically underestimates how much their fellow citizens support substantive climate policy. While 66% to 80% of Americans support climate actions, the average American believes that number is 37% to 43%, the study found.

“It’s stunning how universal and shared that idea is, among every demographic,” said Gregg Sparkman, the paper’s first author, who did this work as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton.

The research, co-authored by Elke Weber, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of psychology and the School of Public and International Affairs, was published in Nature Communications this week.

The study found that conservatives underestimated national support for climate policies to the greatest degree, but liberals also believed that a minority of Americans support climate action. The misperception was the norm in every state, across policies, and among every demographic tested, including political affiliation, race, media consumption habits, and rural vs. suburban residents.

The measures the researchers asked about were major climate policies that could play a role in mitigating climate change in the U.S., including a carbon tax, siting renewable energy projects on public lands, sourcing electricity from 100% renewable resources by 2035, and the Green New Deal. Americans underestimated support for every policy.

Sparkman said this underestimation is problematic because people tend to conform to what they think others believe, which would weaken actual support for such policies.



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