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The Democrats’ Agenda Has a Green Achilles' Heel
Voters Don’t Share Their Fervent Commitment to Renewables and EVs
Last week, I featured some findings from The Liberal Patriot’s first 3,000 voter survey, one of five we intend to do in the coming year. One of these findings was about Americans’ views on energy/climate change strategy. We gave voters three options:
We need a rapid green transition to end the use of fossil fuels and replace them with fully renewable energy sources;
We need an “all-of-the above” strategy that provides abundant and cheap energy from multiple sources including oil and gas to renewables to advanced nuclear power; or
We need to stop the push to replace domestic oil and gas production with unproven green energy projects that raise costs and undercut jobs
The first position, emphasizing ending the use of fossil fuels and rapidly adopting renewables, most closely resembles the current Democratic approach—but was embraced by just 29 percent of voters. In contrast, the most popular position was the second, all-of-the above approach that emphasizes energy abundance and the use of fossil fuels and renewables and nuclear, favored by 46 percent of voters. Another quarter just wanted to stick with fossil fuels.
Further analysis revealed some interesting patterns. Moderates favored the all-of-the-above approach by 58 percent to 23 percent support for the rapid renewables transition, as did 54 percent of independents, with a mere 18 percent favoring the rapid transition to renewables. But one group was very different: 69 percent of very liberal Democrats (about a quarter of the party) were all-in on ending fossil fuels and rapidly transitioning to renewables. That compares to just a minority (44 percent) among other Democrats, with more (48 percent) favoring the all-of-the-above energy abundance approach.
All this suggests that Democrats’ approach to energy and climate change has been defined by the most liberal and “green” elements of the party and in so doing has left the center of the electorate far behind. This is a potential Achilles’ heel for the strategy Democrats are currently trying to retail as “Bidenomics”.
Additional data from a new Pew study and from a 6,000 person survey by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life (SCAL) that I helped design underscores this disconnect between what Democrats want to do and what actual voters would prefer.
Here are some key findings from the Pew study:
By 68 percent to 31 percent, the public favors “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources” over “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only”.
About three-quarters of the public believes it’s somewhat or very likely that increased reliance on renewables will lead to unexpected problems for the country; pluralities believe increased reliance on renewables in the next several decades will worsen the reliability of the grid, the prices people pay to heat and cool their homes and the prices for everyday goods.
Democrats have been heavily pushing a rapid transition to electric vehicles. Seven Democratic-controlled states (Maryland, California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington) are planning to ban the sale of gas-powered cars after 2035. And the Biden administration’s EPA has promulgated a rule on tailpipe emissions so draconian that it would effectively force automakers to shift to mostly EV production by 2032. In the Pew survey, the public is not enthusiastic: 59 percent oppose a 2035 limit on new gasoline cars and trucks, with only 40 percent in favor, a number that has been steadily dropping in the last two years. More than twice as many say they would be upset by such a ban as say they would be excited. Just 15 percent say they would be very likely to “seriously consider” purchasing an EV for their next car (and that’s “seriously consider,” not actually buy).
Since 2016, support for more solar panel and wind turbine farms, while still high, has steadily dropped. The only energy source where the public is becoming more enthusiastic is nuclear power, up 14 points in support over the time period.
Among those who do not currently have various green-identified home systems—electric heat pumps, electric stoves and electric heat pump water heaters—those who have not given serious thought to installing them outnumber those who have by five or six to one.
Finally, when considering proposals to combat climate change, only 30 percent think getting to net zero as quickly as possible is very important. That’s half the number who think keeping consumer costs low is very important.
The SCAL survey allows for a detailed demographic breakdown on some of these issues. These patterns illustrate how serious the green Achilles’ heel could be for the Democrats.
The same question about phasing out the use of fossil fuels completely for renewables elicited an even more lop-sided split in the SCAL survey: 72 percent for the all-of-the-above approach, including fossil fuels, to 26 percent for the rapid renewables transition. The split was even more lop-sided among working-class (noncollege) respondents, as it was among political moderates. Predictably, white college graduate liberals were an exception—two to one in favor of getting rid of fossil fuels. But moderate and conservative white college graduates, who vastly outnumber the liberals, were almost seven to one against. That finding should give Democrats, who are increasingly reliant on support from white college graduates, some pause.
Fascinatingly, among both voters who currently support Biden against Trump (or DeSantis) and those who voted for Biden in 2020, solid majorities favor the all-of-the-above approach and oppose getting rid of fossil fuels for renewables. Perhaps even more interesting, among those “double haters” who are unfavorable to both Biden and Trump—about a fifth of voters—the split in favor of all-of-the-above is 77 to 23 percent. These are the voters who favored Biden over Trump in 2020 and whom many analysts believe he needs to carry again to prevail in 2024.
Many of the Pew findings underscore the critical role that consumer price issues likely will play in any energy transition. How much are voters willing to pay to facilitate the fight against climate change? The short answer is: not much. In the SCAL survey, respondents were asked whether they would vote for a ballot measure to pay extra on their monthly utility bill to combat climate change, with amounts ranging from $1 to $100. Even on $1, the public was closely split, with willingness to support the $1 fee just 7 points higher than opposition to the levy. Among working-class respondents, they weren’t even willing to go that far, in contrast to the college-educated where support for the $1 fee was 20 points higher. This 20-point differential was true for both white working class vs. white college graduates and for nonwhite working class vs. nonwhite college graduates. And notably, political independents were two to one against paying the $1 extra.
And when you up the ante to $10 a month, things really start to fall apart. By 30 points, working-class respondents said they would vote against such a measure. Among moderates and independents the margin was 20 points and among our double haters, it was 25 points.
Moving up to $20 a month, this appears to be a real breaking point. Not only do working-class respondents say they would vote against such a levy by 40 points, even college graduates are bailing out, opposing the extra fee to combat climate change by 20 points. Moderates and double haters are opposed by 40 points and independents by 50 points. Even voters who currently support Biden against Trump (or DeSantis) and those who voted for Biden in 2020 move into opposition at this point. Above this level, support for the levies becomes increasingly tiny. In fact, at the $75 level even liberal white college graduates can’t bring themselves to vote in favor. Guess there’s a limit to putting your money where your mouth is, even when it’s supposedly an “existential crisis!”
These data strongly indicate very weak buy-in among ordinary voters for Democrats’ crusade to transition rapidly to renewables and EVs and eliminate fossil fuels. Voters are just not that interested and certainly not interested enough to disregard their basic economic concerns. To the extent that Democrats insist on continuing down this road, it is truly their green Achilles’ heel.