Half of Americans Say US Government Not Doing Enough on Climate Change

By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura, and Liz Deadrick

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As world leaders convene at the UN climate summit this week, new Chicago Council Survey results show that Americans rate climate change as a lower priority than other foreign policy concerns. At the same time, however, many Americans – and a majority among self-described Democrats – believe that the US government should do more to address this issue. An overall majority say they favor United States’ participation in an international treaty that would call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change not a top threat for Americans

About a third of Americans (35%) say that climate change is a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States. Slightly more rate climate change as an important but not critical threat (38%). These ratings place the threat of climate change 16th out of the 20 total potential threats asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey.

In line with these views, four in ten Americans (41%) say limiting climate change is a very important goal for the United States; a similar proportion (40%) says it is a somewhat important goal. The percentage rating the goal of limiting climate change as very important has grown recently: only three in ten viewed it as a very important goal in 2010 and 2012.

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Climate Change Seen as Future, Not Immediate, Threat 

Americans may say climate change is not a critical threat because they tend to view the problem as a distant threat to the United States. A November 2013 study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that a plurality of Americans thought that climate change will start to harm people in the United States in ten or more years (10% in ten years, 14% in 25 years, 11% in 50 years, and 12% in 100 years). Another 18 percent said that it will never harm the people in the US.  Just one in three (34%) said that climate change is harming the American people “right now.”   

But Many Want Government to Do More

While they see other priorities as more pressing, many want the US government to do more to address climate change. Half of Americans (50%) say that the US government is not doing enough to deal with the problem of climate change—up five percentage points from 2012, when a plurality (45%) said the government was not doing enough. Three in ten (31%) say the government is doing about the right amount, while two in ten (19%) say it is doing too much.

Some of the actions Americans would endorse include increasing tax incentives to encourage the development and use of alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power (73%) and requiring automakers to increase fuel efficiency even if this increases the price of cars (69%). A large majority of Americans (71%) also support the US participating in a “new international treaty to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Support is even higher among those who say that the government is not doing enough to deal with climate change—92 percent of this group believes that the US should participate. Conversely, 80 percent of people who say the government is doing too much oppose US participation in the treaty.

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Partisan Divides on Climate

Climate change is a highly partisan issue. Self-described Democrats are far more likely to see climate change as a critical threat to US vital interests (51%) than Independents (35%) and Republicans (12%). This is consistent with past Council Surveys: Democrats have always been at least 30 percentage points more likely to see climate change as a critical threat.

Similarly, more than half of Democrats (54%) say that limiting climate change is a very important goal versus 40 percent of Independents and 22 percent of Republicans. Democrats (66%) and Independents (51%) are much more inclined than Republicans (35%) to say the government is not doing enough to combat the problem.

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However, these partisan divisions over the importance of climate change do not mean that there are no areas of overlap: majorities of Republicans (54%), Democrats (86%), and Independents (70%) support the US participating in a new international treaty to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Americans who consider themselves “a part of, or a supporter of, the Tea Party movement”[1] are also less likely to see climate issues as important. They are also less likely to support action to address climate change. Only two in ten of Tea Party sympathizers (19%) say climate change is a critical threat and only a quarter (27%) say liming climate change is a very important goal for the US. Half of Tea Party backers say the government is doing too much to deal with the problem of climate change (49%), and a majority oppose participating in a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (56%).

“Climate Change” v. “Global Warming”

Some prior experimental survey research has demonstrated that using either “climate change” or “global warming” does not affect public perceptions of the problem’s seriousness[2]. Wording choices were also tested in the 2008 Chicago Council Survey, and this experiment did reveal a difference. Then, 44 percent of Americans labeled “global warming” a critical threat, while 39 percent said the same about “climate change.”

The 2014 Chicago Council Survey reiterated this experiment, randomly assigning “global warming” or “climate change” to half the survey sample. Results were similar to 2008. Americans are somewhat more concerned about “global warming” than they are about “climate change,” with 42 percent labeling global warming a critical threat, compared to 35 percent who say the same about climate change. There was not much of an effect on the rating of the issue as a goal. The public similarly rates limiting global warming (42%) and limiting climate change (41%) as very important goals.

Figure4

Republicans are particularly sensitive to the change in wording. Twenty-five percent of Republicans say global warming  is a critical threat—more than double the percentage for climate change (12%). Democrats and Independents do not appear to differentiate between the two: they are just as likely to view global warming and climate change as critical threats.

About the 2014 Chicago Council Survey

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey and previous Chicago Council Surveys of the American public on foreign policy. The 2014 Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the overall sample is ± 2.1 percentage points; for the experiment on climate change and global warming, the margin of error is ± 4.2 percentage points.

For more results from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, please see Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment, which can be found at http://www.thechicagocouncil.org.

The 2014 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, the United States-Japan Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown.

For more information regarding the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, please contact Dina Smeltz, senior fellow, Public Opinion and Global Affairs (dsmeltz@thechicagocouncil.org; 312-821-6860) or Craig Kafura, senior program officer, Studies (ckafura@thechicagocouncil.org; 312-821-7560).

 

[1] Among those who consider themselves a part of or identify with the Tea Party movement (12% overall), 49 percent identify as Republicans, 18 percent as Democrats, and 31 percent as Independents.

[2] Villar, A., & Krosnick, J. A. (2011). “Global warming vs. climate change, taxes vs. prices: Does word choice matter?” Climatic Change, 105, 1-12.

American Views of the United Nations

By Dina Smeltz, senior fellow, public opinion and foreign policy, and Craig Kafura, senior program officer, studies

The 69th session of United Nations General Assembly will be held against the backdrop of international crises that include the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, ISIS military gains in Iraq and Syria, and continuing negotiations with Iran. While majorities of Americans are confident in the UN’s ability to carry out humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping missions, they are more skeptical of the UN’s effectiveness when it comes to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, resolving international conflicts, and sanctioning countries that violate international law.

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Americans support going along with UN policy even if not first choice for US

In every Chicago Council Survey since 2004, majorities of Americans have agreed that the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the UN even if this means that the United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice, and the 2014 survey is no different (currently at 59%, returning to 2006 levels). Two in three Americans also say that strengthening the United Nations is an effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals (64%).

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United Nations rated highest on peacekeeping, humanitarian, and cultural activities

The 2014 Chicago Council survey finds that Americans rate the United Nation’s peacekeeping, cultural and humanitarian efforts as more effective than UN approaches toward more hard-hitting threats. About six in ten think the United Nations is doing a good job at sending peacekeeping troops to conflict zones (61%), protecting the cultural heritage of the world (61%), leading international efforts to combat hunger (57%), and protecting and supporting refugees around the world (57%). In a separate question, a majority also supports working through the United Nations to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members enforce them (78%).

But the public is more divided on whether the United Nation is doing a good or bad job at authorizing the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security (51% good, 45% bad), preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons (50% good, 47% bad), imposing sanctions to punish countries that violate international law (50% good, 46% bad) and resolving international conflicts through negotiations (50% good, 46% bad).

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Strengthening the UN not a high foreign policy priority

However, strengthening the United Nations does not rate as a top goal for Americans. From 1974 to 2002, about half said that strengthening the United Nations was a very important goal. Since 2004, however, no more than four in ten say that strengthening the United Nations is a very important goal. This may partly reflect a partisan divide that emerged in the wake of the Iraq War, which was hotly debated in the UN Security Council before its start in 2003. Since in 2004, fewer Republicans and Independents consider strengthening the United Nations a very important goal, while the percentage of Democrats who favor doing so has remained more or less constant over the past decade.

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On another question, a much smaller majority now than in 1974 says that the US role in the founding of the United Nations was “a proud moment” in US history (59% versus 81% in 1974), though many say it is neither a proud nor dark moment (12% in 2014) or that they are unsure (12% in 2014). Of course, the 40-year time difference could account for this change. But when asked the same question about the US role in World War II, an identical percentage today as in 1974 say the US role in WWII is a proud moment in American history (68% a proud moment for both 1974 and 2014).

Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment

Yesterday, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment, the first of several reports on the 2014 Chicago Council Survey. Below are a selection of key findings from the report, which you can find in full at www.thechicagocouncil.org. Be sure to follow @ChicagoCouncil@IvoHDaalder, @RoguePollster, and @ckafura for continuing discussion of the 2014 Survey results. 

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Among much of the political elite today, a specter is haunting America—the specter of isolationism. Since the last Chicago Council Survey in 2012, many policymakers, politicians, and pundits have come to question the continued willingness of Americans to engage in world affairs. As global troubles brew in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, some claim that the public is turning inward and resistant to any sort of US military intervention. And they have used public opinion polling to argue their points.

Public continues to support an active role for the United States in world affairs.

But a new survey by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, conducted from May 6 to 29, 2014, demonstrates that isolationism is not the appropriate term to describe current public opinion. Public support for international engagement remains solid, with six in ten Americans in favor of an active role in world affairs. At the same time, four in ten Americans now say the US should stay out of world affairs—a proportion that has grown to its highest point since the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974.

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The new survey data show that this growing desire among Americans to “stay out” of world affairs is linked to increased criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a decreased sense of threat, a long-standing desire to focus on domestic problems, and an increased divide among Republicans on this question. But the data do not show a desire to disengage from the world. Instead, results of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey confirm continued, and in some cases even growing support for US international involvement, especially when it comes to nonmilitary forms of engagement.

Indeed, the most striking finding of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey is the essential stability of American attitudes toward international engagement, which have not changed all that much since the Council conducted its first public opinion survey 40 years ago. As they have for four decades, Americans support strong US international leadership, place primacy on protecting American jobs over other foreign policy goals, favor diplomacy with countries that are hostile toward the United States, support participation in many international treaties and agreements, and endorse trade despite economic setbacks. Americans remain selective about when they will support putting US troops in harm’s way, but are most likely to do so in response to top threats or humanitarian crises.

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Americans Support Use of Force Against Terrorism

By Dina Smeltz, senior fellow, public opinion and foreign policy, Craig Kafura, senior program officer, studies, and Liz Deadrick, research assistant

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As President Obama prepares to address the nation tomorrow night regarding the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Chicago Council Survey results from May 2014 show that the Americans remain concerned about the threat of international terrorism, though less intensely now than in the past. Still, combating terrorism remains a top foreign policy goal for the U.S. public, and one of the few situations where majorities of Americans say they are willing to support the use of US troops. That support is reflected in recent polls from CNN/ORC International and ABC News/Washington Post, which find majorities of Americans in favor of conducting airstrikes against ISIS.

Terrorism a top threat, though fears are declining

Americans have long sensed a threat from international terrorism, even before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Chicago Council Surveys conducted in 1994 and 1998 found solid majorities expressing concern about terrorism, following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. By 2002, the first Chicago Council Survey to follow the 2001 attacks, nine in ten Americans said that international terrorism was a critical threat (91%). In tandem, nine in ten also considered combating international terrorism a very important goal (91%).

Terrorism Threat and Goal - Trend - PNG

Over the past decade, Council surveys have shown a declining sense of threat across a number of issues, particularly since the public’s hyper-vigilant attitudes in 2002. In the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, six in ten rate international terrorism a critical threat (63%), a sharp decline from 91 percent in 2002. In fact, as the figure above shows, this is the lowest level of concern reported since this question was first asked in 1994. There have been concurrent declines over time in fears about nuclear proliferation (from 85% deeming it a critical threat in 2002 to 60% now) and Iran’s nuclear program (68% a saying it is a critical threat when first asked in 2010 to 58% now).

Despite these subsiding fears, international terrorism remains a top concern for Americans today. Only one in four Americans (24%) believe that the United States is safer today than it was before the terrorist attacks in 2001. A plurality says the country is as safe as it was before 2001(48%), and another quarter says the country is less safe (27%). In addition, among all twenty potential threats asked about in The 2014 Chicago Council Survey, international terrorism is currently ranked second. Only cyber-attacks on US computer networks are ranked higher, with 69 percent of Americans viewing these as a critical threat.

Similarly, combating international terrorism remains one of the public’s top five foreign policy goals, as it has been since the question was first asked in 1998. This year—as with every year except for 2002—it ranks as less important than protecting the jobs of American workers and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Majority of Americans support most measures for combating terrorism, including use of US troops

Majorities of Americans have consistently supported a variety of possible actions to combat terrorism, including the use of force. Seven in ten Americans support US airstrikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities (71%) and assassinations of individual terrorist leaders (70%). Six in ten support attacks by US ground troops against terrorist training camps (56%) as well as drone strikes to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists (62%). While these levels have also declined from post-9/11 peaks, current readings are in line with results from 2012 and from 1998. These results highlight the public’s preference for lower-risk approaches of airstrikes, assassinations, and drone strikes. Over time, support for airstrikes and ground troops has returned to levels before the 2001 attacks, while support for targeted assassinations has grown.

Anti-Terror Actions - Trend - PNG

These preferences are reflected in Americans’ current views on how to deal with ISIS. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released September 9 found support for airstrikes in Iraq (71%) and Syria (65%). Similarly, a new CNN/ORC International poll released on September 8, 2014 shows a majority favoring airstrikes (76%) against ISIS. Yet the public continues to oppose sending US troops, with 61 percent of the public opposed to placing US soldiers on the ground to combat ISIS.

Measures to combat international terrorism - 2014

The public also favors non-military approaches to combat terrorism. Nearly four out of five Americans (78%) favor working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members enforce them, making this multilateral approach the most favored of all measures. However, support for this measure has decreased steadily since 2002 when it was favored by 88 percent of Americans.

Younger Americans place lower priority on combating terrorism

 

Since 2002, when large majorities of all age groups deemed terrorism a critical threat, generational gaps have broadened on this and other issues. Now, a bare majority (51%) of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 view international terrorism as a critical threat, down from 92 percent in 2002. In contrast, larger majorities of older Americans label it as a critical threat, ranging from 57 percent among those ages 30-44 to76 percent of those over age 60. This declining perception of threat is not limited to terrorism, however, as Americans are less likely to describe most threats asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey as critical. Nor is this age gap an entirely new phenomenon: younger Americans have consistently been less threatened by international issues. But the size of the gap has grown.

Terrorism Threat - by age

Younger Americans are also less supportive than older Americans of the use of drones. A majority of 18-29 year olds (51%) oppose the use of drone strikes to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists (44% support) compared to majority support among other age groups. In the cases of NSA data collection and the use of air strikes against terrorist camps and facilities, younger Americans favor these approaches, but to a lesser degree than older Americans, as has consistently been the case since the question was first asked in 1998. For example, nearly eight in ten (78%) of Americans over the age of 60 support the NSA collecting telephone and internet data to identify links to potential terrorists—but only six in ten Americans under the age of 44 say the same.

There is also a steadily widening age gap occurring between the youngest and oldest age groups on the use of air strikes. Sixty percent of 18-29 year olds favor US air strikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities compared to 80 percent of Americans over the age of 60 say the same. Finally, when it comes to putting ‘boots on the ground’, younger Americans are about as supportive as older Americans: slightly more than half of 18-29 year olds (51%) and Americans over the age of 60 (57%) support using ground troops to attack terrorist training camps and other facilities.

Partisan divisions on terror threat

Republicans have consistently been the most likely to say that combating terrorism is a very important goal since the question was first asked in 1998. However, the proportion of Democrats emphasizing the importance of fighting terrorism has been on the rise since 2008—the year President Obama was elected. At the same time, the importance of terrorism to Republicans has steadily declined from its post-9/11 peak of 94 percent. Now, Democrats (65%) are as likely as Republicans (62%) to say that combating terrorism is a very important goal. Independents are least likely to say so (56%).

Terrorism Goal - by PID

Though support for combating terrorism crosses partisan lines, Republicans tend to be more likely than Democrats to favor using force to combat it. Eight of ten (80%) Republicans favor the assassination of individual terrorist leaders while 68 percent of Democrats support this action. The same holds for U.S. air strikes against terrorism training camps and other facilities (Republicans favor at 82 percent and Democrats at 67 percent) and for attacks by U.S. ground troops (66 percent of Republicans favor and 57 percent of Democrats). Democrats, however, show higher favor for helping poor countries develop their economies (75%) and working through the UN (84%) than Republicans (60% and 76%, respectively).

About the 2014 Chicago Council Survey

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey and previous Chicago Council Surveys of the American public on foreign policy. The 2014 Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the overall sample is ± 2.1 percentage points.

A full report on the results of the 2014 Chicago Council Survey will be released on September 15.

The 2014 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 United States-Japan Foundation.

American Public Opinion on NATO

By Ivo H. Daalder, president, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

NATO Leaders meet in Wales this week for what will be the most important Summit meeting since the end of the Cold War. Russian actions in Ukraine pose a fundamental challenge to European security—and thus a challenge to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. What do Americans think about NATO, the threats to security, and the steps the US might take to uphold its defense commitments on the other side of the Atlantic? In the new 2014 Chicago Council Survey, the American public offers broad support for the U.S. commitment to NATO, views Russia increasingly unfavorably, and worries about Russia’s territorial ambitions. At the same time, support for sending troops to defend NATO countries continues to be relatively weak.

Here’s what Americans had to say about these issues from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey conducted May 6-29.

Americans support for NATO is at highest level in 40 years

Since the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974, majorities have consistently favored maintaining or increasing the U.S. commitment to NATO. Today, such support stands at 78 percent, the highest level in 40 years. As in previous polls, most of this support comes from Americans believing that the U.S. commitment to NATO should remain as it as it is now (66%); an additional 12 percent favor increasing the commitment. Only 7 percent want to withdraw entirely from NATO, and another 12 percent want to decrease U.S commitment.

NATO-commitment

Opinion of Russia hits post-Cold War low

The strong support of NATO may reflect increased wariness about Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine. American views toward Russia have now dropped to the lowest level since the Cold War. On a scale of 0 to 100, Americans rate Russia a 36 on average in 2014. This is just above the ratings Americans gave to the Soviet Union during the Chicago Council’s Cold War-era surveys of 1978-1986 and is the lowest rating ever given to Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

americanfavorability_graph

At the same time, only a minority of Americans (38%) sees Russia’s territorial ambitions as a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States, though another 50 percent of Americans see it is an important threat. Perhaps as a result, only three in ten support using U.S. troops to come to Ukraine’s defense if Russia invades the rest of that country (30%), though that is an increase of ten points compared to when the question was asked in 1994.

russia_threat

Only a minority would support using US troops to defend NATO’s Baltic members

When asked about the possibility of Russia invading the Baltic countries, only 44 percent of Americans support using U.S. forces to protect “NATO allies such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.” While low, especially given the commitment to collective defense of the NATO Treaty, current support for using US troops to defend NATO allies is much higher than in the late 1990s. Then, just three in ten Americans (28%) supported using US troops if Russia invaded Poland, which was about to join the Alliance as a new member. Moreover, while higher than in the case of the Baltic states today, in 1994 only a bare majority of Americans (54%) supported using US troops to defend “western Europe” from a Russian invasion.