Americans Expecting a Power Shift in Energy Supply in Next Ten Years

By Dina Smeltz and Rachel Bronson

A global energy revolution is underway, driven in part by new technologies to unlock untapped resources and drive energy efficiency. A recent Chicago Council Survey shows that Americans place a high priority on a secure energy supply and support the development of renewable energy.  While renewables have many virtues, the public does not necessarily understand the urgency of developing alternative energy as a means to limit climate change. Nevertheless, Americans clearly lean toward cleaner methods of powering the country and expect renewable sources will overtake fossil fuels as the primary US energy sources in the next ten years.

Energy a top priority for Americans

Americans have long considered securing adequate supplies of energy a top goal for US foreign policy.  Going back decades to the first Chicago Council Survey in 1974, majorities have rated securing energy supplies a very important goal (66% in 2014 and 75% in 1974).  In the 2014 survey, it ranks second only to protecting the jobs of American workers. In addition, since 2010, three in four say that reducing US dependence on foreign oil is a very important goal (74% today).

The public has been slower to recognize the attendant issue of climate change, although more now than in the past four years view limiting climate change is a very important goal (41% compared to 33% in 2012, 35% in 2010, 42% in 2008).  If the views of American academic, government and business leaders make an impact on public opinion, concern about climate change among the public could rise. New results from a 2014 Chicago Council Leaders Survey show that leaders, like the public, also emphasize securing energy supplies as a top priority. [1] But leaders also consider climate change a top threat and say that limiting climate change should be one of the highest goals for US foreign policy.


Emphasis on developing renewables, especially if business or government picks up the bill Continue reading

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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 (; 312-821-6860) or Craig Kafura, senior program officer, Studies (; 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.

Borderline Identity Issues in North America, But Strong Support for Trade

Note:  EKOS gave permission to use their graphs in this posting.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in Mexico City last week,  where he and Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera signed an economic agreement  that aims to increase tourism, foreign investment and exports, and to facilitate university partnerships.  The agreement was development with assistance from The Brookings Institute; according to a Brookings press release, business and civic delegates from metropolitan areas across Mexico, the United States and Canada also planned to discuss the significant role of metropolitan areas in an integrated North American economy.

A recent cross-national poll shows varying degrees of willingness to deepen North American ties.  Mexicans would welcome deeper integration with the rest of North America on a range of policies (less so on energy policy). Americans are generally open to aligning environment and security policies (with pluralities saying they should integrate policies). Canadians are also positive toward environment and security cooperation; but they are less concerned now about border security than in the past.  Canadians appear more sensitive than Mexicans and Americans toward the tradeoffs of sovereignty and integration.

These are some of the findings of three separate surveys conducted in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The study was coordinated by EKOS Research Associates on behalf of Robert Pastor and the Centre for North American Studies (CNAS) at American University.  Miguel Basáñez was also a key contributor to this research, and the Centro de Estudios de Opinión Pública fielded the face-to-face interviews in Mexico. The Canadian survey was based on EKOS’ probability-based, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. The US survey was conducted using GfK’s Knowledge Networks’  KnowledgePanel.

The survey objectives included gauging attitudes toward trilateral relations and testing the appeal of a “North American idea.”  CNAS recently held a conference examining the rise and decline of NAFTA, and pointed, in part, to a lack of government leadership in creating a sense of a North American market and community. Continue reading