In September and October of 2008 a research team from Yale and George Mason Universities
conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,164 American adults. Survey
participants were asked about their issue priorities for the new administration and Congress,
support and opposition regarding climate change and energy policies, levels of political
and consumer activism, and beliefs about the reality and risks of global warming.
Overall, the survey found that concerns about the economy dwarfed all other issues: 76
percent of Americans said that the economy was a “very high” priority. Global warming
ranked 10th out of 11 national issues; nonetheless it remains a high or very high national
priority for a majority of Americans. In addition, 72 percent of Americans said that the
issue of global warming is important to them personally.
In line with these concerns, large majorities of Americans said that everyone - companies,
political leaders at all levels of government, and individual citizens - should do more to
reduce global warming. Likewise, despite the economic crisis, over 90 percent of Americans
said that the United States should act to reduce global warming, even if it has economic
costs. This included 34 percent who said the U.S. should make a large-scale e≠ort,
even if it has large economic costs.
Americans strongly supported unilateral action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 67%
said the United States should reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, regardless of what
other countries do, while only 7 percent said we should act only if other industrialized and
developing countries (such as China, India, and Brazil) reduce their emissions.
Americans also strongly supported a wide variety of climate change and energy policies:
• 92 percent supported more funding for research on renewable energy sources, such as
solar and wind power;
• 85 percent supported tax rebates for people buying energy e∞cient vehicles or solar
• 80 percent said the government should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant;
• 69 percent of Americans said the United States should sign an international treaty that
requires the U.S. to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050.
Large majorities of Americans also supported policies that had a directly stated economic
cost. For example:
• 79 percent supported a 45 mpg fuel e∞ciency standard for cars, trucks, and SUVs,
even if that meant a new vehicle cost up to $1,000 more to buy;
• 72 percent supported a requirement that electric utilities produce at least 20 percent of
beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, actions 5
their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it cost the
average household an extra $100 a year;
• 72 percent supported a government subsidy to replace old water heaters, air conditioners,
light bulbs, and insulation, even if it cost the average household $5 a month in
• 63 percent supported a special fund to make buildings more energy e∞cient and teach
Americans how to reduce their energy use, even if this cost the average household $2.50 a
month in higher electric bills.
At the time of the survey, nationwide retail gas prices were approximately $3.25/gallon
and energy had become a major issue in the presidential campaign. Within this context,
respondents also supported a variety of other energy policies:
• 75 percent supported the expansion of o≠shore drilling for oil and natural gas o≠ the
• 61 percent supported the building of more nuclear power plants;
• 57 percent supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
• Only 33 percent, however, supported increasing taxes on gasoline by 25 cents per gallon
and returning the revenues to taxpayers by reducing the federal income tax.
Finally, this study found relatively weak support for a national cap and trade system. Only
53 percent of Americans supported the creation of a new national market that allows companies
to buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases. Further, this proposal was strongly
supported by only 11 percent of Americans, while it was strongly opposed by 23 percent.