Most Americans Want the U.S. to Stay in the Paris Agreement


Few issues in the United States are as divisive as climate-change policy. Republicans and Democrats disagree not only on how to address global warming, but also about its basic facts and whether it requires a policy response at all.  

But there are a few bright spots of bipartisan agreement on climate issues, at least according to polls. One of them is the Paris Agreement.

Seven out of 10 Americans support remaining in the agreement, according to a national poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Communication after the election. This cuts across parties: A majority of self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and independents all want to stay in the accord.

Slightly less than half of self-identified Trump voters also want to remain in the accord, according to the Yale poll. Another quarter opposes staying in the treaty, and the remainder say they don’t have an opinion about it.

This support is something of a mystery. Many issues elicit some kind of cross-partisan support until political debate polarizes public opinion. Climate change, as a whole, for instance, has followed this trajectory—as Republican leaders have increasingly rejected action on global warming, concern about the climate from their voters has decreased over time.

But whether to remain in the Paris Agreement was a core dispute of the 2016 president election. Hillary Clinton supported the accord, while Trump promised to “cancel” the treaty in his first major speech on energy in May 2016.

It’s possible that most Americans support Paris because the agreement is the status quo, and people generally like the status quo. A neatly identical percentage of Americans support Paris as endorse Obama’s Clean Power Plan for the electricity sector, for instance, which is also currently the law of the land.

The Yale program polled 1,300 Americans from a national sample. Using these results, they extrapolated from demographic information to arrive at state-by-state estimates of public support for Paris. This is a well-tested polling technique that works well for presidential elections: Young, college-educated white men tend to vote the same, no matter where they live, for instance. It can falter, however, if there are geographic differences in political opinion.

Using this technique, the researchers argue that a majority of Americans in all states support staying in the treaty. These include (of course) Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and West Virginia—all states with a Republican senator who asked Trump last week to stick to his campaign promise and pull out of the treaty.

Public opinion can change quickly in reaction to events, especially when they have a partisan edge. In 2013, only 22 percent of Republicans supported President Barack Obama’s proposal to air-strike Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons. But when Trump followed through and bombed a Syrian airfield in March of this year, 86 percent of Republicans supported him.

This is a profound swing—more than 64 percent—but smaller shifts are also common. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats now say they have a favorable view of NATO, up 20 percent from last year. Republican opinion of the alliance, meanwhile, fell five points.

There’s actually one even brighter spot in climate polling: renewable energy. Across many polls, vast majorities of Americans—more than 85 percent—say they support building out wind and solar energy. Many of the Trump administration’s policies—such as a massive decrease in funding for renewables research, and a study of the electric grid that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has called “anti-wind”—seem designed to slow the rollout of renewable technology across the national grid.

It remains unclear whether these policies will polarize opinion about these technologies as well.

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