A majority of Americans are interested in taking action to protect the environment but are divided on how to do so, suggesting a complicated path forward for winning support for a "green new deal" that would dramatically change the economy to take on climate change.
In a Hill-HarrisX survey of registered voters, 65 percent of respondents agreed that current environmental patterns are troubling and must be dealt with but they were split on whether to support costly government actions to do so.
Of those who said they found the direction of the environment troubling, 66 percent agreed with the statement that current environmental patterns are "extremely troubling" and that action must be taken now to address them.
Thirty-four percent said that the situation was only "somewhat troubling" and that actions should only be undertaken that are fiscally prudent.
A small minority of respondents (15 percent) said that they were not concerned with current environmental patterns and that no actions were necessary. An even larger minority, 20 percent, said they were not sure what to think about environmental policy.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention More than 200 women, transgender inmates to be transferred from Rikers Island MORE (D-N.Y.) has been at the forefront of Democrats challenging their party to take on climate change by embracing what they call the green new deal. This would involve a massive investment in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure that would be intended to change the energy sector and even the larger economy.
The numbers in the Hill-HarrisX poll are similar to a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll that asked Americans about climate change.
In that poll, 66 percent said they believed that climate change is a serious problem that needs action. That study found that the percentage of Americans with this opinion had increased by 13 points since 1999.
The Hill-HarrisX poll found that there was a strong partisan division on the question with a majority of Democrats (62 percent) saying that environmental conditions are extremely troubling and action must be taken. Republican respondents were three times less likely to share that opinion with only 21 percent agreeing.
"Thirty or forty years ago, almost everyone said they were environmentalists," Vanessa Williamson, a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution said on Friday's broadcast of Hill.TV's "What America's Thinking."
"And now, it's such a partisan category," she continued. "I think there is such a need to build a stronger, more diverse overall environmental movement. It can't just be that people who like to hike in the hills of San Francisco are the environmentalists. Nothing's going to get done that way."
Despite Republicans being less interested in immediate action for the environment, however, a majority of GOP respondents in the Hill-HarrisX survey did actually favor taking action on the environment compared to wanting none or being unsure.
In the poll, a plurality of Republican respondents (33 percent) said they wanted environmental action that is fiscally prudent while only 26 percent said they wanted no action taken. An additional 21 percent were unsure.
Independent voters hold opinions that are in-between Democrats and Republicans. The plurality of them (44 percent) favor action in response to "extremely troubling" environmental patterns while 20 percent favored "fiscally prudent" action. Twenty-two percent were unsure while 13 percent said that no action is necessary.