But many foresee problems ahead with transition to renewables and oppose breaking from fossil fuels altogether
Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ views of climate, energy and environmental issues. For this analysis, we surveyed 10,329 U.S. adults from May 30 to June 4, 2023.
Everyone who took part in the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds large shares of Americans support the United States taking steps to address global climate change and back an energy landscape that prioritizes renewable sources like wind and solar. At the same time, the findings illustrate ongoing public reluctance to make sweeping changes to American life to cut carbon emissions. Most Americans oppose ending the production of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and there’s limited support for steps like eliminating gas lines from new buildings.
This report comes about a year after the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act introduced policies and incentives meant to dramatically reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, a signature part of the Biden administration’s efforts on climate change. The survey takes stock of how Americans feel about related questions on climate, energy and environmental policy, including proposed changes to how Americans power their homes and cars and what to do about the impacts communities face from extreme weather.
The Pew Research Center survey of 10,329 U.S. adults conducted May 30 to June 4, 2023, finds:
- 74% of Americans say they support the country’s participation in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
- 67% of U.S. adults prioritize the development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen power over increasing the production of fossil fuel energy sources.
By sizable margins, Americans support a number of specific policy proposals aimed at reducing the effects of climate change through targeting greenhouse gas emissions and carbon in the atmosphere:
- Overwhelming majorities support planting about a trillion trees around the world to absorb carbon emissions (89%) and requiring oil and gas companies to seal methane gas leaks from oil wells (85%).
- 76% favor providing a tax credit to businesses that develop carbon capture technologies and 70% support taxing corporations based on their carbon emissions.
- 61% favor requiring power plants to eliminate all carbon emissions by the year 2040.
Still, there are limits to public support for major changes to the way homes, cars and the electrical grid are powered.
Only 31% of Americans currently support phasing out the use of fossil fuel energy sources altogether. Another 32% say the U.S. should eventually stop using fossil fuels, but don’t believe the country is ready now. And 35% think the U.S. should never stop using fossil fuels to meet its energy needs.
Less than half of the public (40%) favors phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks. Support for this policy is 7 percentage points lower than it was two years ago. And underscoring the strong feelings big changes to American life can engender, 45% say they would feel upset if gas-powered cars were phased out; fewer than half as many (21%) would feel excited.
When it comes to the construction of new buildings, slightly more Americans oppose (51%) than favor (46%) requiring most new buildings to run only on electricity, with no gas lines, a recent flashpoint in state legislatures and national climate conversations.
Republicans and Democrats continue to offer competing visions on climate and energy issues. Deep Republican skepticism toward a renewable energy transition is a major factor behind much of the overall public’s reluctance to make a sharp break from fossil fuels.
But views within both party coalitions defy simple categorization. And some of the most far-reaching policies aimed at addressing climate change and carbon emissions garner a less-than-enthusiastic response from Democrats, as well as outright opposition from Republicans.
A closer look at the two major party coalitions on climate and energy issues
Key views among Republicans
- 73% say they would be upset if gas-powered vehicles were phased out.
- 58% say expanding oil, coal and natural gas production should be the country’s energy priority.
And yet …
- 67% favor a business tax credit for developing carbon capture technologies.
- 70% support more solar panel farms and 60% favor more wind farms.
Within the GOP …
- There are sizable differences in views on climate and energy between moderates and conservatives.
- Those under 30 express the least support for fossil fuel energy sources.
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents prioritize oil, coal and natural gas development over renewable energy sources and have deep concerns (especially around prices) about what a transition to renewable energy would mean for the country.
Some proposed changes, like phasing out new gas-power vehicles provoke a strong negative response: 73% of Republicans say they would be upset by this. And stacked up against other national issues, climate change consistently ranks as a low priority for Republicans.
But these attitudes do not preclude Republican support for climate policies and renewable energy altogether. Two-thirds favor a business tax credit for the development of carbon capture technologies and majorities support more solar panel and wind farms, when these energy sources are not placed in competition with fossil fuel development.
Within the GOP, moderates and young Republicans often offer the most support for action on climate change and a shift toward renewable energy, though they make up a relatively smaller share of all Republicans and GOP leaners compared with conservatives and older Republicans.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly back the U.S. participating in international efforts to address global climate change. By a 90% to 10% margin, Democrats say renewable energy sources should be given priority over the development of oil, coal and natural gas.
Key views among Democrats
- 94% support U.S. participation in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
- 90% say renewable energy sources should be given priority over the production of fossil fuels.
- 80% expect a major transition to renewable energy would improve air and water quality.
Even so …
- 51% oppose phasing out fossil fuels completely.
Within the Democratic coalition …
- 61% of liberals are ready to phase out the use of fossil fuels altogether and 76% support ending gas-vehicle production.
- By contrast, 62% of moderates and conservatives think fossil fuels should be part of the energy mix and 53% support ending production of gas vehicles.
Democrats, by and large, foresee benefits from an energy transition in the U.S., including better air and water quality, job opportunities in the energy sector and greater energy independence.
Despite this favorable stance toward climate action and renewable energy, 51% of Democrats oppose phasing out fossil fuels altogether, saying instead, that oil, coal and natural gas should continue to be part of the mix of energy sources the country relies on.
Within the Democratic Party, large majorities across age and ideological groups are generally supportive of shifting toward renewable energy and policies to address climate change.
Still, important differences do emerge, especially regarding the pace of an energy transition: 61% of liberals are ready to phase out the use of fossil fuels altogether, while 62% of moderates and conservatives say they should be part of a mix of sources for now, along with renewables. And while a large share of liberals (76%) back ending the production of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, support among moderates and conservative is more limited (53%).
What role should government play in communities at high risk of extreme weather?
As communities across the country confront the risks posed by extreme weather, such as wildfires, severe storms and coastal erosion, Americans express an openness to some policy proposals for communities at high risk from these events.
- More say it’s a good idea than a bad idea for the federal government to limit new construction in communities at high risk of extreme weather (54% to 19%). Another 27% say they are not sure of their views on this.
- 53% of Americans think it’s a good idea for the federal government to provide financial assistance to help communities rebuild after extreme weather events. Far fewer (24%) call this a bad idea and 23% say they’re not sure.
- By a 47% to 24% margin, more say it’s a good idea than a bad idea for the federal government to provide financial assistance for communities to relocate from areas at high risk of extreme weather.
- But there’s less public support for the federal government requiring communities to relocate from high-risk areas: 29% call this a good idea, compared with 33% who say it is a bad idea and 38% who say they’re not sure.
When it comes to firsthand experiences with extreme weather and its connection with climate change:
- 69% of Americans say they’ve experienced at least one of five types of extreme weather in the past year: Long periods of unusually hot weather (45%), severe weather such as floods or intense storms (44%), droughts or water shortages (33%), major wildfires (18%) and rising sea levels that erode beaches and shorelines (16%).
- Majorities of Americans who say they’ve experienced extreme weather in the last year believe that climate change has contributed a lot or a little to these events.
How do Americans see Biden’s climate agenda today?
Overall, 45% of Americans say the Biden administration’s policies on climate change are taking the country in the right direction, while slightly more (50%) say they have the country headed in the wrong direction. This overall rating reflects a sharp partisan divide: 76% of Democrats see President Joe Biden’s climate policies as heading in the right direction; by contrast, 82% of Republicans say they’re taking the country in the wrong direction.
Within Biden’s own party, there are signs that Democrats aren’t completely satisfied with the administration’s actions on climate. Among the majority of Democrats who think Biden’s climate policies are pointed in the right direction:
- 59% say that Biden could be doing a lot more on climate change, compared with a smaller share (39%) who say he’s done as much as can be expected.
- And while 51% of Democrats who agree with Biden’s overall direction on climate say he’s taken about the right approach toward compromise, 34% say he has compromised too much on climate policy.
The recently approved Willow oil drilling project in Alaska garnered wide attention in energy and climate circles, but the Biden administration’s decision did not register widely with the public: 68% of Americans say they’ve heard nothing at all about this issue; 32% say they’ve heard at least a little about it.
The Biden administration’s decision to approve the Willow project is unpopular with Democrats who are aware of it: By 61% to 23%, more Democrats who have heard of the project oppose than favor it. Liberal Democrats aware of the issue are especially critical (74% oppose the decision).
Do Americans support government efforts to address environmental disparities across communities?
Most Americans support the federal government playing a major (46%) or minor (29%) role addressing differences across communities in their health risks from pollution and other environmental problems. A small share (8%) say the federal government should play no role in this, while 16% say they’re not sure.
The issue of environmental health disparities across communities is fairly well known to the public: 77% of Americans say they’ve heard a lot or a little about this issue, while 22% say they haven’t heard about it.
Large majorities of Democrats (68%) and those most familiar with the issue (73%) support the federal government playing a major role addressing community differences in health risks from pollution and environmental problems.