The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Americans support government regulation to fight climate change. Including in Pittsburgh.

Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington on June 1, 2017, to protest President Trump’s decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)
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On Thursday, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In doing so, Trump said that he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Trump also vowed to put cities such as Youngstown and Detroit ahead of Paris.

The president’s invocation of Pittsburgh was quickly denounced by Mayor Bill Peduto (D), who vowed to adhere to the Paris commitments, noting that Hillary Clinton defeated Trump quite handily in Pittsburgh.

But who is right? Does Trump’s decision represent what the citizens of Pittsburgh want? Our research suggests that it does not. Peduto is right: The citizens of Pittsburgh and surrounding suburbs favor government regulation of carbon emissions.

What is the Paris climate agreement? And what else do you need to know about climate politics?

Nationally, public concern about climate change has been increasing. For example, according to Gallup polls, the percentage of people either very or somewhat “worried about global warming” reached 65 percent in March — near the level of concern expressed in 2008 just before the Great Recession. Other surveys tell a similar story.

What about regulating carbon emissions? The president’s speech, as well as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s comments, suggested that these regulations were unpopular. That is where our research comes in.

We took advantage of a survey called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which has an extraordinarily large sample of about 40,000-50,000 Americans. In 2016, the CCES was fielded just before the election and asked this question: “Do you support or oppose the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon dioxide emissions?”

We then estimated a statistical model, known as “multilevel regression and post-stratification,” that allows us to use this large national sample to estimate the opinions of individual states and even congressional districts.

Here’s what we found. Large majorities in the country, the Midwest states, and formerly industrial cities such as Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Detroit favored the EPA regulating carbon emissions. For example, in Pennsylvania, 66 percent supported it, as did 67 percent in Ohio and 70 percent in Michigan. The same was true in other states where pluralities voted for Trump, such as Wisconsin (68 percent) and Iowa (66 percent). We found similar levels of support when we analyzed data from the 2014 CCES.

Support in and around formerly industrial cities such as Pittsburgh is even higher for regulating carbon dioxide. In the congressional districts that encompass Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Detroit, we estimate that more than 70 percent support EPA regulation. Support is somewhat lower in the suburban and rural districts surrounding these cities, but still almost always more than 60 percent.

Our analysis indicates there is only one state and congressional district where a majority of the population opposes the EPA regulation: Wyoming, which produces about 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States. In energy-producing areas of other states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Kentucky and West Virginia, there is close to majority opposition.

Of course, our survey question was not specifically about the Paris agreement. But the question does center on a crucial policy question, given the Trump’s administration’s plan to roll back Obama-era rules that would allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.

After Trump’s speech, Pruitt said that Trump’s decision showed his commitment to listen to the will of the people, who are “rulers of this country again.” Our research suggests the opposite. Trump’s plan is not in sync with public opinion — in Pittsburgh and in most other places.

Lyle Scruggs is professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut. Clifford Vickrey received his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Connecticut in 2016.