May 13, 2015 | By Craig Kafura, Dina Smeltz

Americans’ Views on Key Global Issues of Climate, Energy, and the Global Economy

The Chicago Forum on Global Cities, hosted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Financial Times, will convene in Chicago from May 27 to 29, 2015. It brings together global city leaders of the four pillars vital to urban life—business, education, arts and culture, civics—for a multidisciplinary discussion on how they can collaborate to make their cities more economically vital, socially inclusive, and environmentally livable.
But what does the American public think about some of these key issues? For details on how Americans view climate, energy, and the global economy, we turn to data from the long-running Chicago Council Surveys. 

Climate Change
As growing hubs for people, commerce, industry, and transportation, global cities are leading contributors to stresses on the environment. According to UN Habitat, cities cover less than 2 percent of the earth’s surface but produce 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and consume 78 percent of the world’s energy. Half of Americans (50%) say that the US government is not doing enough to deal with the problem of climate change nationally. Three in ten (31%) say the government is doing about the right amount, while two in ten (19%) say it is doing too much.

Figure 1 - Climate Change

Despite this, the public overall does not see climate change as a critical threat to US vital interests. Four in ten (38%) say it is important, but not critical, while 35 percent say it is a critical threat. An additional 27 percent say it is not an important threat. This puts the threat of climate change 16th of the 20 threats asked about in the Chicago Council 2014 Survey.

Americans are in favor of international action to combat climate change. Seven in ten Americans (71%) support the US participating in a new international treaty to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Support is even higher among those who say that the government is not doing enough to deal with climate change—92 percent of this group believes that the US should participate. Conversely, 80 percent of people who say the government is doing too much oppose US participation in the treaty.

Figure 2 - Climate Treaty

Globalization and the Global Economy 

The forum will discuss the ways in which the world’s most powerful cities serve as economic engines of the twenty-first century and how global cities are positioned as hubs of trade and commerce. Meanwhile, Chicago Council public opinion data reveals how Americans view globalization and the global economy more broadly.
Americans believe economic strength (77%) is more important than military strength (23%) to a nation’s power and influence in the world, and seven in ten (72%, up 5 points since 2012) say that signing free trade agreements is an effective means to achieve foreign policy objectives.
Americans also express broad support for globalization and free trade. As the US economy continues to recover from the largest global economic collapse since the 1930s, public views on globalization have returned to 2004 levels. Two out of three Americans say that globalization is mostly a good thing (65% vs. 34% bad thing), the highest recorded percentage to feel this way since the question was first asked in 1998.

Figure 3 - Globalization
 Asked about trade agreements specifically, half the public (50%) favors agreements to lower trade barriers provided the government has programs to help workers who lose their jobs. Another 14 percent favor trade agreements but oppose the governments’ programs to help workers who lose their jobs. One in three (31%) opposes agreements to lower trade barriers regardless of programs to help the unemployed, the lowest proportion yet. Since this question was first asked in 2004, opinion has been quite stable, with a plurality of Americans (between 43% and 50%) supporting trade agreements with a provision for the unemployed. 

This general support for trade agreements is reflected in more specific situations. Majorities of Americans support both of the two far-reaching trade agreements that the United States is currently pursuing. Six in ten Americans support the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe (62%, 29% oppose). A similar proportion support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated among a dozen Pacific Rim countries (63%, 31% oppose). Public support for these agreements is impressive given that the text of these agreements has been neither completed nor publicized. This suggests that public backing of these agreements is based on broad support for the idea of trade agreements rather than knowledge of the specifics.

Figure 4 - Trade Deals

Finally, the Chicago Forum on Global Cities will discuss how many of the world’s global cities were designed centuries ago and need to adapt their antiquated infrastructure to meet twenty-first century needs. One of their greatest challenges will be supplying increased energy options with fewer resources. So what do Americans think about energy sources and the US reliance on foreign supplies?
Americans have long considered securing adequate supplies of energy a top goal for US foreign policy. In the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, two-thirds of Americans (66%) deem it a very important goal, second only to protecting the jobs of American workers. Going back decades to the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974, majorities have consistently deemed securing energy supplies a very important goal. In addition, three in four (74%) say that reducing US dependence on foreign oil is a very important goal. 

Figure 5 - Energy Goals

Reflecting these priorities, the American public favors a wide variety of measures to reduce US dependence on foreign energy sources. The most popular of the proposals presented in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey are maintaining existing nuclear power plants to reduce reliance on oil and coal (76%) and increasing tax incentives to encourage the development and use of alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power (73%). Seven in ten (69%) favor requiring auto-makers to increase fuel efficiency, even if this means the price of cars would go up (69%). And two in three Americans (65%) support opening up land owned by the federal government for oil exploration.
Smaller majorities support increasing the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations (56%) and increasing the mining and use of coal for generating electricity (55%). The sole proposal in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey that Americans oppose is raising taxes on fuels such as coal and oil to encourage individuals and businesses to use less (34% favor, 63% oppose), a cost they would have to bear personally.

Figure 6 - Energy Policy

Though the Chicago Council Surveys don’t ask specifically about global cities, these issues – climate change, international trade, energy policy – have critical impacts on cities, both around the world and here in the United States. And with national governments controlling the key levers of power to resolve many of these critical issues, public opinion plays a critical role in shaping public policy. With urban leaders looking to solve these global challenges, they will also need to respond to the public’s views.



Dina Smeltz joined The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February 2012 as a senior fellow in public opinion and foreign policy, and directed the Council’s 2012 survey of American public opinion (see Foreign Policy in the New Millennium).  She has nearly 20 years of experience in designing and fielding international social, political and foreign policy surveys.

As the director of research in the Middle East and South Asia division (2001-2007) and analyst/director of the European division (1992-2004) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department’s Office of Research, Dina conducted over a hundred surveys in these regions and regularly briefed senior government officials on key research findings. Her experience includes mass public and elite surveys as well as qualitative research.  She has written numerous policy-relevant reports on Arab, Muslim and South Asian regional attitudes toward political, economic, social and foreign policy issues.  Her writing also includes policy briefs and reports on the post-1989 political transitions in Central and Eastern Europe, and European attitudes toward a wide range foreign policy issues including globalization, European integration, immigration, NATO, and European security.

With a special emphasis research in post-conflict situations (informally referred to as a “combat pollster”), Dina has worked with research teams in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel-Palestinian Territories and in Iraq (2003-2005), where she was one of the few people on the ground who could accurately report average Iraqis impressions of the postwar situation.  In the past three years, Dina has consulted for several NGOs and research organizations on projects spanning women’s development in Afghanistan, civil society in Egypt and evaluating voter education efforts in Iraq.

Dina has an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS from Pennsylvania State University.

Feel free to email Dina with comments or questions at


| By Karl Friedhoff

Consequences of Success on the Korean Peninsula

The April 27 inter-Korean summit was largely successful in the eyes of the South Korean public. It has created momentary trust in North Korea, and if that lasts, may lead the public to ask serious questions about the US-South Korea alliance.

| By Karl Friedhoff

The Reunification Spectrum for South Koreans

When it comes to reunification, South Koreans take pause. A quick reunification likely has serious cosequences for the South, and is not much favored by the South Korean public. Instead, the status quo is generally favored, and those views are often conditioned by the actions of North Korea.

| By Karl Friedhoff

Diplomacy in the Air on Korean Peninsula

In the coming months, there will be a flurry of diplomatic activity on the Korean Peninsula. This is good news for many South Koreans, even though the South Korea public still has doubts about North Korea's true intentions.

| By Dzena Berbic, Craig Kafura

America and the Millennial Agenda

Millennials have become the most populous living generation in the United States, overtaking Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in becoming the largest voting body. So what do Millennials want, and what are some of their noticeable generational differences? A recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs event featuring Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL2), former Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL10), POLITICO’s Natasha Korecki, and Council pollster Craig Kafura, discussed Millennial attitudes and the Millennial political agenda.

| By Craig Kafura

O Christmas Tree

Christmas is a widely-celebrated holiday in the United States. Though the Christmas tree remains a popular symbol, Americans are changing the kind of tree they use in their homes—and a small but rising number are opting to celebrate without a tree altogether. 

| By Dina Smeltz

Arrested Development

In President Trump's first major speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week, he described the nuclear agreement with Iran as an "embarrassment" to the United States. But according to the 2017 Chicago Council Survey, the public disagrees. 

Americans Not Sure Trump's Policies Will Make America Safer

The 2017 Chicago Council Survey finds that majorities of Americans continue to think that international terrorism is one of the most critical threats to the United States. But the overall public is not convinced that the Trump administration's policies will make the United States safer from terrorism.