The Decline of Public Support for State Climate Change Policies: 2008-2013

March 2014

The first decade of the 2000s was a period of active and largely unanticipated state engagement in the development of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This triggered substantial social science literature that explored the drivers behind climate policy adoption. These included state reactions to more localized early effects of a changing climate, anticipated co-benefits from either improving energy efficiency or developing locally-generated renewable sources, and positioning themselves for favored status in any subsequent federal policy regime. But this pattern of policy adoption and diffusion has slowed and, in some respects, reversed in recent years. Despite the absence of far-reaching federal legislation, a number of federal initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in recent years have tended to marginalize state policy initiative and expansion.

This report tracks the evolution of public opinion on the question of state government involvement in climate change over a five-year period, from Fall 2008 to Fall 2013. It concludes that there has been some significant decline in public support for at least some of the policies that have been asked about by National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE) during this period. The drop-off has been most noticeable since the Fall 2008 survey, which has also surfaced as a high-water mark for public concern about climate change. Our findings note a significant drop in public concern right after that period, at least in cases where we asked the identical question in subsequent surveys, including a further trend downward in surveys conducted during the spring and fall of 2013. Declining public concern may be a contributing factor to the stalled pace of policy development at the state level, though it also indicates variation depending upon question wording and the policy instrument under consideration. Subsequent reports will examine these issues in greater detail and will also provide insight into whether geographic regions differ from one another, or whether citizens differ on the basis of whether they live in states that have (or have not) adopted particular policies.