August 3, 2015

Partisans differ sharply on power plant emissions limits, climate change

President Barack Obama today unveiled stricter environmental regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants, an issue over which there is a deep partisan divide. The new guidelines are part of the White House’s larger push to combat climate change and promote renewable energy sources.

Sharp Partisan Divides over Moves to Limit Power Plant EmissionsOverall, a majority of Americans support stricter limits on power plant emissions, but as with climate change, the views of Democrats differ markedly from those of Republicans, both in the public and among elected officials. Even before the formal announcement, GOP leaders vowed to mount a number of challenges to Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor stricter limits on power plant emissions to address climate change, while 31% oppose such regulations, according to a Pew Research Center survey from November 2014. These opinions, however, vary greatly by party.

Fully 78% of Democrats and those who lean Democratic back stricter emissions limits, compared with only half of Republicans and those who lean Republican. Tea Party Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) are especially resistant to stricter emissions limits for power plants, with 71% opposing stricter guidelines.

In addition to partisan differences, opinions vary by age, gender and educational attainment. Women are more inclined than men to approve of stricter emissions standards, while younger adults are more likely than their older counterparts to say they support curbing power plant emissions. College-degree holders are more supportive of curtailing power plant emissions than are those with lower levels of educational attainment. Views vary little by race or ethnicity.

These partisan differences mirror beliefs about climate change in general. Another 2014 Pew Research survey found that half of U.S. adults believe climate change is occurring because of human activity; another 23% say the Earth is getting warmer because of natural patterns in the environment; and a quarter of Americans do not believe there is solid evidence of climate change.

Some 27% of Republicans and those who lean Republican believe humans are primarily responsible for the Earth getting warmer, compared with 71% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Republicans and independents who lean Republican are roughly four times more likely than Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party to say there is no solid evidence of global warming (41% vs. 11%).

Public opinion on whether climate change is due to human activity is roughly the same as it was when Americans were polled on the issue in 2009, but there has been an uptick in the share of adults who say there is no solid evidence of global warming (11% in 2009 vs. 25% in 2014).

And when it comes to opinions on whether global warming is a serious problem, Republicans and Democrats are divided on this as well. Roughly two-thirds (67%) of Democrats and 45% of independents view global warming as a very serious problem, while only 21% of Republicans take this stance, according to a Pew Research survey conducted in 2015.

Topics: Energy and Environment, Political Attitudes and Values

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.