This story has been updated.
Since the election of Donald Trump as president, climate change has rushed to the front of the news because of Trump’s pledges to wipe away major U.S. attempts to address it. Of particular concern to scientists and environmentalists around the world is Trump’s vow to “cancel” U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement, negotiated by nearly 200 countries late last year and the foundation for a global push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, country by country.
However, a new survey released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Monday suggests that if Trump were to withdraw from the agreement, that may not be popular in the United States. The survey of 2,061 Americans, conducted in June, finds that 71 percent support the Paris deal, including 57 percent of Republicans — – a notable finding on a topic that, at least so far, does not seem to have received much polling attention.
Here was the question asked, and the response:
Note that the Paris agreement is so new that not all Americans may have even heard of it, but the one sentence description here is an accurate (if very brief) one.
The finding, notes the Chicago Council, comports with Americans’ long-standing general support for international climate treaties, but it also somewhat masks deep disagreement about the reality and severity of climate change that persists between Democrats and Republicans.
Those differences reappeared when respondents were asked whether they agreed that climate change is “a serious and pressing problem” that should be addressed even if there are “significant costs”:
Dina Smeltz, an opinion researcher and senior fellow with the Chicago Council who is the lead author of the report on the survey results, said that the way to reconcile the two findings involves the different importance that Democrats and Republicans place on the climate issue.
“In terms of priorities, Democrats see it as a much higher priority for foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans … don’t think some action should be taken,” Smeltz said. “An increasing percentage of Republicans now say that some gradual action should be taken” to address climate change concerns.
Smeltz also said that although some Americans may not have heard of the Paris agreement, the survey question defines it, and other surveys have often shown support for taking action to address climate change and to advance clean energy. Some recent surveys have also shown mounting concern about the climate issue recently.
One issue not explicitly addressed by the survey is whether the world is already under such a threat from climate change that we can’t afford to take “gradual” steps toward reducing the risks, an option that garners considerable Republican support above. Scientists generally consider the problem to be very urgent, and say that steep global emissions cuts are required to address it.
Smeltz said the study showed that Americans overall tend to favor treaties and international agreements, which might partly explain the finding. “When we ask about agreements in general, especially in our wording, Americans do seem to support a lot of international agreements which are collective agreements,” she said, “which means that Americans alone do not have to sign on to these agreements.”
Considering the study results, could trying to exit the Paris deal damage the president-elect politically? It would undoubtedly cause a national and an international uproar, but would Trump’s base think worse of him?
“Some of the support could be soft, so it’s hard to make a broad conclusion with that,” Smeltz said. “But basically the American public does support making gains on this, and has been growing in their support for mitigating climate change.”
But Smeltz does not think views on this subject have changed much since the election; rather, she detects a broadly growing U.S. acceptance of climate action. “Among all partisans, there has been an increase in those who want to take some kind of a step to mitigate climate change,” she said.
That may be good news for the activists, scientists and environmentalists who fear a much bigger battle ahead in opposing the new president on this issue.