Former president Barack Obama on June 1 said President Trump's administration "joins a small handful of nations that reject the future" by withdrawing from the Paris climate deal. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Most Americans oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, with a majority saying the move will damage the United States’ global leadership, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Trump’s decision outpaces support for it by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, with 59 percent opposing the move and 28 percent in support. The reactions also break down sharply along partisan lines, though Republicans are not as united in support of the withdrawal as Democrats are in opposition to it. A 67 percent majority of Republicans support Trump’s action, but that drops to 22 percent among political independents and 8 percent of Democrats. Just over 6 in 10 independents and 8 in 10 Democrats oppose Trump’s action.

The survey also finds broad skepticism toward Trump’s argument that leaving the Paris agreement will benefit the U.S. economy. While 32 percent of respondents say his action will help the nation’s economy, 42 percent say it will hurt and 20 percent say it will make no difference. On a separate question, slightly more people surveyed say that exiting the climate accord will cost jobs, such as those in renewable energy, than it will create jobs in traditional energy sectors such as coal, oil and gas.

Trump’s decision to exit the landmark Paris climate agreement — a pact signed by more than 190 countries — drew criticism last week from U.S. allies, major companies and mayors of numerous U.S. cities, all of whom underscored their commitment to what they called the necessary task of combating climate change. Trump argued that the nonbinding agreement imposed “draconian financial and economic burdens on our country” and predicted it would cost Americans millions of jobs and the U.S. economy trillions of dollars — a stance critics quickly noted did not consider the health benefits from cutting emissions and the potential economic benefits of investments in clean energy.

On Sunday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said the Paris agreement was “a bad deal for this country” in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s clear that the demerits, the efficacy both in environmental outcomes as well as the cost to us from a jobs perspective was a bad deal for this country,” Pruitt said, arguing that the United States has already accomplished a great deal in reducing its carbon footprint.

The Paris deal essentially represented a promise by countries to hold the planet’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and to aspire to a 1.5-degree limit if possible, in an effort to stave off the worst effects of global warming. Under the deal, countries would set their own targets — and their own approaches — for reducing their emissions, with the aim of increasing the ambition of their targets over time. The United States, for instance, had agreed to cut greenhouse gases to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

“Someday we may see this as the moment when we decided to save our planet,” President Barack Obama said last September as he and Chinese President Xi Jinping formally joined the Paris climate accord, a move that compelled other countries to follow suit and led to the landmark deal officially entering into force that fall. He added at the time, “History will judge today’s efforts as pivotal.”

With Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, the United States is abandoning its role as a global leader in the fight against climate change and instead joining only two other countries not participating in the accord: Syria, which is in mired in civil war, and Nicaragua, which refused to join because its leaders said the Paris deal did not go far enough to combat global warming.

 

The Post-ABC poll’s finding that 59 percent oppose leaving the climate deal is similar to 56 percent who opposed such a move in a January Post-ABC poll, though the latest survey finds attitudes split more sharply along political and demographic lines. Opposition is 15 percentage points higher among Americans under age 40 than among seniors ages 65 and older (67 percent vs. 52 percent), and non-white adults are similarly more likely to oppose exiting the climate deal than whites (71 percent vs. 54 percent).

One cleavage of support bodes well for Trump and Republicans: Registered voters are twice as likely to approve of Trump’s decision to exit the climate agreement (33 percent vs. 15 percent). Still, majorities of both groups oppose Trump’s decision.

Beyond economic concerns, the Post-ABC poll finds 55 percent saying Trump’s decision will hurt U.S. leadership in the world, while 18 percent say it will help and 23 percent expect no impact. Even supporters of Trump’s action expressed mixed views on this question, with 48 percent saying Trump’s action will boost U.S. leadership, while 49 percent think it will make no difference or will harm the nation’s standing. Among those who oppose Trump’s decision, 77 percent say it will hurt American leadership.

Republicans are largely optimistic about the economic benefits of leaving the climate agreement, with more than three-quarters saying Trump’s decision will help the economy and 73 percent saying it will create more jobs like those in traditional energy than it will cost in the renewable-energy sector.

Independents are much more pessimistic on these questions, with just over one-quarter (26 percent) saying that leaving the agreement will help the economy and 33 percent saying it will create more jobs than it costs. As expected, Democrats are even more critical, with clear majorities saying that abandoning the Paris accord will cost jobs and hurt the economy.

The percentages of Americans who expect leaving the agreement will have negative consequences for international efforts to combat climate change and U.S. leadership more broadly are higher than the share who foresee positive consequences.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Friday to Sunday among a random national sample of 527 adults, including users of cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus five percentage points.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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