Americans Think Government Should do More to Protect Environment, But Attitudes Vary Widely by Party

"Fire Drill Friday" Climate Change Protest
Demonstrators are seen during "Fire Drill Friday" climate change protest on November 8, 2019 in Washington, DC. Protesters are demanding action for a "Green New Deal," including renewable energy by 2030, and no new exploration or drilling for fossil fuels. John Lamparski/Getty

A majority of U.S. adults believe that current efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change are not sufficient, a new poll from the Pew Research Center has found.

Sixty-seven percent of adults in the survey indicated that they believe the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of global climate change, though attitudes towards this question broke down starkly along party lines.

An overwhelming census among Democrats—at 90 percent of those surveyed—formed around the inadequacy of current government action. On the other hand, just 39 percent of Republicans similarly felt the government was insufficiently addressing climate change.

While still substantial, the partisan divide is less significant when considering the attitudes of younger Republicans specifically. A slight majority of millennial members of the party and younger generations think the federal government is not doing enough.

Despite skepticism about the government's role in addressing the climate crisis, Democrats and Republicans are more inclined to agree about the role of markets in spearheading reform efforts. Seventy-seven percent of U.S. adults, including 62 percent of Republicans, think developing alternative energy sources is more important than expanding the use of fossil fuels. Again, 90 percent of Democrats indicated the same.

When probed more deeply, federal government interventions into the economy are perceived much differently based on political leanings, the Pew survey found. Moreover, there was widespread skepticism that climate policy could yield positive changes to the economy.

Government policy aimed at mitigating climate change is thought to produce more good than harm by 81 percent of liberal Democrats, 64 percent of moderate Democrats, 49 percent of moderate Republicans and 25 percent of conservative Republicans.

But when queried about the effects of these policies on the U.S. economy, only liberal Democrats indicated by majority that the economy would benefit. A plurality of Americans, overall, felt that pro-climate policies would "make no difference." Although, respondents were somewhat evenly divided on the question, sorting into three roughly comparable categories expressing pro-, neutral and anti-interventionist views as concerns economic impacts.

While younger Republicans were the most likely cohort within the party to support government action on climate change and believe that these policies can be effective, they still align with their older counterparts on economic skepticism. A plurality—at 46 percent—of younger GOP members think that pro-climate policies will hurt the economy. Majorities of older Republicans think the same.

Republican men, specifically, were the least inclined to do anything in their personal lives to protect the environment. Only 16 percent were receptive to eating less meat and 35 percent regularly carpooled in order to safeguard the environment. Republican women were around 20 points more likely to support each individual contribution one could make to the environment in their daily lives, such as reducing food waste and using fewer single-use plastics.

Democratic men and women, on the other hand, expressed substantially similar preferences as each other towards individual contributions to the environment, and they overwhelmingly supported most efforts. The only behavioral change that didn't earn a majority endorsement from both Democratic cohorts was the proposition of eating less meat. Only 43 percent of Democratic men said they eat less meat to protect the environment.