No, Republicans Don’t Really Support EPA’s Climate Agenda

Misinformation abounds at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The university’s Project on Climate Change Communication released a new survey that is grabbing headlines but is riddled with flaws.

The survey claims that “Republican voters are actually split in their views about climate change,” with a majority of “moderate” Republicans supporting EPA’s proposed rule to “set strict CO2 emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants.” Overall, the survey finds that 64 percent of registered voters supported the plan.

Readers should dismiss these “results” for several reasons, as explained below.

Biased Question Wording

The survey is worded to pump up the supposed benefits of EPA’s plan (“reduce global warming and improve public health”) without mentioning anything about costs. But numerous surveys show that Americans take a much dimmer view of EPA’s agenda—and environmental regulations generally—when they are told of the potential costs. Some examples include:

  • After being told that EPA’s power plant rule would result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, a majority of voters in key battleground states opposed the regulation, according to a July survey released by AEA.
  • A recent survey conducted by MWR Strategies on behalf of AEA finds that 60 percent of likely voters believe that it is “mostly a bad thing” to “require States to impose mandates on their citizens to buy certain amounts of renewable energy, whether or not it is cost-effective,” as EPA’s power plant rule would.
  • Harvard Professor Stephen Ansolabehere finds that people will pay just $5 more per month to combat climate change. “People are not willing to really put their dollars—even people who say they are concerned about global warming—are not willing to put their dollars where their hearts are,” says Ansolabehere.
  • Fifty-six percent of registered voters in Oregon oppose a state plan to reduce the carbon-intensity of gasoline after being told that doing so could raise their fuel costs by up to 19 cents per gallon (see poll here).

Cherry-picked Results

The researchers claim that Republicans are “actually split in their views about climate change” including the EPA’s carbon-dioxide regulations. If that were actually true, it would be a compelling narrative. After all, “Republican leaders in Congress have pledged to roll back the EPA’s proposed new regulations on coal-fired power plants.” That would put the views of Republicans in Congress at odds with the views of Republican voters.

But Republicans aren’t actually as split as the researchers claim. So-called “moderate Republicans” (62 percent of which support EPA’s plan based on the survey’s biased wording) comprise just 23 percent of “total Republicans” surveyed. “Conservative Republicans” who make up more than half of all Republicans surveyed oppose the rule by a 3:2 margin. Overall, just 44 percent of all Republicans support EPA’s plan.

Yale’s attempt to find a schism in the Republican Party over EPA’s climate agenda may grab headlines, but it is mostly hype.

Voters Give Climate Change Low Priority

There is a difference between supporting an issue in principle and believing that addressing the issue should be a priority. Surveys are conducted in a vacuum, but policy is made in the real world with finite time and resources. That requires the public to decide which issues are most urgent—and the public doesn’t think climate change is one of them.

In fact, addressing climate change consistently ranks near the bottom of Americans’ priorities. For example:

  • “Dealing with global warming” ranked dead last in a 2013 Pew survey of the public’s top policy priorities. It has ranked at or near the bottom of the agenda every year since 2007, when Pew added the issue to its survey.
  • A long-running Gallup survey finds that just 1 percent of Americans think the environment is “the most important problem facing” the country.
  • When likely voters were asked to identify “the most pressing issue facing the United States,” climate change or the environment didn’t even register, according to an AEA survey.

Any discussion of the public’s views on climate change should be tempered by the fact that most people don’t think climate change is a top priority. Yale’s failure to poll voters on their top priorities deprives readers of this key context.


Yale University’s survey of Republican attitudes toward EPA’s climate agenda is flawed and misleading. The survey relies on biased questions and cherry-picked results to advance a narrative that does not exist. Republicans are not nearly as divided as Yale claims: in fact, its own data show that most Republicans oppose EPA’s power plant rule. Before releasing their next survey, Yale’s climate-change researchers ought to bone up on basic statistics—fortunately, their employer has many course offerings.

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