Survey: Majorities of Republicans and Democrats Support Paris Agreement as Concerns over Climate Change Grow

November 21, 2016

As the world waits to see whether the next U.S. administration will comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change, there is strong bipartisan support for the international deal according to new survey data released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Reflecting a gradual growth in concern from Republicans, American attitudes are shifting toward a bipartisan consensus on the need to take action on climate change. However, the survey, conducted June 10-27, 2016, shows the two parties are still far from agreeing about how big a threat climate change poses and how urgently it should be addressed.

The full report is available online here. Graphs from this release may be downloaded here.

Majorities across Party Lines Support U.S. Participation in Paris Agreement

Bipartisan majorities support the climate change agreement negotiated in Paris last year:

  • Seven in ten Americans (71 percent), including majorities of Republicans (57 percent), Democrats (87 percent), and Independents (68 percent), say that the United States should participate in the Paris Agreement that calls for countries to collectively reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Growing Concern and Desire to Take Action on Climate Change:

Four in ten Americans overall (41 percent) say climate change is a serious and pressing problem, and that we should begin taking steps now even if this involves serious costs.

  • Among the overall public, those saying climate change is a serious and pressing problem has increased twelve percentage points from 2010, when three in ten (29 percent) said the same.
  • A majority of Democrats (62 percent) versus two in ten Republicans (19 percent) support this position.
  • Republican support remains low, but has risen slightly in recent years (19 percent, up from 13 percent in 2010).
  • Over the past six years, Republicans in particular have become less likely to say the United States should take no action on climate change: while half said so in 2010 (47 percent), only one in three agree today (34 percent).

Deep Partisan Divide on Threat of Climate Change

Republicans and Democrats assign very different levels of threat to the issue of climate change.

  • Overall, four in ten (39 percent) Americans say climate change is a critical threat to the United States.
  • While a majority among Democrats (57 percent) believe it is a critical threat, only 18 percent of Republicans feel the same way. Independents split the difference at 35 percent.
  • The gap between partisan groups has widened, even as the percentages of respondents citing climate change as a critical threat have risen from low points in 2012 (when it was 44 percent for Democrats) and 2014 (when it was 12 percent for Republicans).

Clean Energy Preferred

In pursuing their goal of energy independence, Americans lean toward cleaner methods of powering the country.

  • Overall, six in ten Americans (64 percent) say that attaining U.S. energy independence is a very important goal for U.S. foreign policy, with similar proportions of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (66 percent), and Independents (64 percent) agreeing.
  • The 2015 Chicago Council Survey found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) say that investing in renewable energy is a very important factor for U.S. economic competitiveness, versus 41 percent who said the same about investing in oil and gas extraction.
  • This matches previous Council results on Americans’ energy preferences: in 2014, Council data showed that three in four Americans (73 percent) favored increasing tax incentives to encourage the development and use of alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power, while fewer supported fracking (56 percent) or increased coal mining (55 percent).

For more information, please read the full report

About the Chicago Council Survey 
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10 and June 27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges ±2.2 to ±3.5 percentage points, depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups (Democrats: ±3.6 to ±5.2; Republicans: ±4.1 to ±5.7; Independents: ±3.7 to ±5.3). Partisan identification is based on respondents’ answer to a standard partisan self-identification question: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what?”

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.