It is easy to be alternately frightened, appalled and head-shakingly despairing about what comes out of Trump’s United States. Officials deleting all references to climate change from official documents; immigration policies that make Peter Dutton look like a raging leftie; ongoing attempts to ban abortion or make them impossible to get; spiralling defence spending compared with poor health and social services; and, increasing inequality.
Yet there is another story when you dig down on attitudes to issues such as climate change and where Americans think the US is heading. Supporting the pointers from the 2018 mid-term House elections, and presidential polling, there are clearly significant changes in the way the majority of US citizens think about issues.
The George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (Mason 4C) regularly tracks attitudes to climate change and associated issues; conducts research and communication programs around issues such as the health effects of climate change and conducts innovative programs such as using weather people (not the 1960s ones but those on TV) to communicate facts about climate change.
The Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash is developing similar programs and research priorities. It also partners with other academics around Australia, TV stations and local newspapers to inform the public about climate change issues as well as undertaking a range of attitudinal research which demonstrates that our national government is almost as out of touch with community sentiment on the subject as the Trump administration. The major difference being that in Australia they mention the issue but do nothing about it rather than not mentioning it and doing nothing about it.
How out of touch the Trump administration is with the US public on the issues is indicated by the latest Mason 4C research on policies to address climate change. The Center draws on interviews undertaken in August with a sample population of 2208 registered voters.
It found that “Voters overall are more likely to back candidates who support specific policies to address climate change. Nearly three-quarters of registered voters (74%) say they are more likely to support candidates who favor setting stronger pollution limits for business and industry, and seven in 10 say they are more likely to support candidates who favor setting stronger fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks (70%), requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a tax on their carbon pollution (70%), and providing assistance to communities losing jobs in the oil, gas, and coal industries (70%). More than six in 10 (62%) voters also say they are more likely to support candidates who favor ensuring protection of low-income and minority communities that are more vulnerable to climate change impacts.”
69% of voters are worried about climate change and more than a third (35%) are very worried. About three quarters of voters say climate change is impacting US agriculture and causing extreme weather events, while six out of 10 believe it is affecting the health of Americans and the US economy. Half think their own family’s health is at risk.
David Koch, if not having been cremated would be whirling in his grave (surely someone has crafted a new phrase for this situation), to know that despite the hundreds of millions he spent on climate denial and libertarian economics that: “Seven in 10 American voters support government action to address climate change, including more than four in 10 (42%) who strongly support it. A large majority (71%) of voters supports establishing a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requiring 100% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2050, and nearly half of voters (49%) would approve of the federal government using their tax dollars to help pay for the transition to 100% renewable-generated energy. Majorities say enacting a national 100% RPS would have a positive impact on the environment in the U.S. (77%) and the U.S. economy (61%), bring down electricity costs (61%), and benefit rural and farming communities (56%).”
There is also an overwhelming majority in favour of investing in infrastructure to be better able to withstand climate change effects. Three quarters of them want upgrades to existing infrastructure and new infrastructure projects to be built to withstand extreme weather. Significantly, even at a higher cost to taxpayers. It would be interesting to explore which taxpayers should bear the extra costs – presumably not the beneficiaries of Trump tax cuts. Perhaps that is another research project for Mason 4C. Separate research cited by Mason 4C indicated that US parents are also worried about the impact of fossil fuels on children’s brains.
And speaking of damaged brains the survey also threw some light on attitudes to Trump and the nation’s direction. It found that 23% strongly approved of the groper-in-chief; 18% somewhat approve; 11% somewhat disapprove; 45% strongly disapprove; and 3% are not sure. It also found that 35% of respondents thought the country was on the right track (a staggering finding for such a proud, patriotic and often myopic population) with 59% saying it was on the wrong track.
If you think this may be all bad news for Trump and good news for the world you will be encouraged by University of Melbourne’s Adrian Beaumont’s summary of recent polling for The Conversation.
“In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of US national polls, Donald Trump’s ratings are currently 41.4% approve, 54.0% disapprove with all polls for a net approval of -12.6%. With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove (net -10.7%),” he said..
“In a late August Quinnipiac University national poll (one of Trump’s worst pollsters), his ratings were 38% approve, 56% disapprove. Trump trailed leading Democratic contenders Joe Biden by 54-38, Bernie Sanders by 53-39, Elizabeth Warren by 52-40 and Kamala Harris by 51-40. The most support he achieved against any Democrat was two points above his overall approval rating.”
Establishment and risk-averse Democrats will probably deliver the nomination to Biden but wouldn’t it be wonderful if a smart, articulate female who actually believed in something got the nod? These figures indicate it might actually be good political strategy.
Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/