California vs. the Trump Administration: How Americans view emissions standards and climate change

September 30, 2019, 4:30 PM GMT+0

Last week, the Trump Administration refused to allow California to set its own car emission standards (CAFE standards) stricter than the national standard (a standard set by the Obama Administration, but rolled back by the Trump Administration). President Trump tweeted this will create, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” It certainly will create jobs for lawyers, as 23 states almost immediately sued the Administration.

The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds the American people willing to let California set stricter fuel emissions standards (even though they would prefer one national standard in principle). They also (more narrowly) oppose the Administration’s denial of a waiver (which had been routinely granted in the past) to allow California to do just that.

About a third of Americans don’t necessarily trust auto companies to produce fuel-efficient cars without government-set fuel economy standards. This group is even more in favor of stricter standards.

The debate that the President referenced— jobs versus the environment — is not a debate for most Americans. By 78% to 9%, they believe it is possible to both protect the environment and protect jobs. But if they had to choose, they would prioritize the environment over jobs. Two years ago, the country was more divided: in April, 2017, 43% said they would prioritize the environment; 38% jobs.

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Protecting the environment is not just an economic matter. Many in the public ascribe a moral component to the environment. By two to one, Americans believe more developed countries have a greater responsibility than poorer countries to control greenhouse gases and a responsibility to help poorer nations with the impact of climate change. Narrowly, by 41% to 36%, the public views climate change as a moral issue. By more than two to one, 55% to 23%, they approve of Pope Francis urging world leaders to work to stop climate change.

But aside from morality, there is another component of opinion — people’s belief in scientific evidence. Most Americans (59%) agree that there is a scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is mostly caused by human activity. One in four don’t believe there is such a consensus. But believing scientists agree on the causes of climate change matters. It even mitigates the effect of partisanship. Republicans continue to doubt that climate change is caused by humans. However, those who believe there is a scientific consensus accept human responsibility for climate change.

One in five Democrats say the environment is their most important issue, placing it behind only health care (26%). It is an issue on which Donald Trump fares poorly. Only 35% approve of how he is handling the environment; 50% disapprove.

Read the full toplines and table results from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll here

Image: Getty