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Global Warming

Kyoto Treaty

A strong majority of Americans favors the US abiding by and ratifying the Kyoto Treaty even when presented with the key arguments for and against the treaty. Only a minority is aware that President Bush opposes participation in the Kyoto Treaty. When respondents are told that that President Bush has decided to not abide by the Treaty approximately half oppose the decision while a fairly small minority supports it. A strong majority opposes his decision to not pursue reductions of carbon dioxide emissions and thinks he should propose develop some plan for reducing emissions. When the Kyoto Treaty was being negotiated in 1998 a strong majority supported the level of emissions cuts proposed, even when informed that the US had originally sought less-deep cuts, and a plurality leaned toward deeper cuts.

A strong majority of Americans have indicated their support for the Kyoto Treaty. In June 2005, PIPA simply asked “based on what you know, do you think the U.S. should or should not participate in the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming.” A strong majority of 73% favored participation. This was up a bit from September 2004, when only 65% favored it. Only 16% in June 2005 and September 2004 opposed participation.

In July 2004 the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations asked the same question in the context of a battery and found 71% in favor and 19% opposed. This was up from CCFR’s 2002 poll when 64% favored it and 21% were opposed. [1]

Poll questions that present the key arguments for and against the Kyoto Treaty elicit a similar response in an April 2001 ABC News poll that presented both sides of the argument with the following question:

An international treaty calls on the US and other industrialized nations to cut back on their emissions from power plants and cars in order to reduce global warming, also known as the greenhouse effect. Some people say this would hurt the U.S. economy and is based on uncertain science. Others say this is needed to protect the environment and could create new business opportunities. What's your view--do you think the United States should or should not join this treaty requiring less emissions from U.S. power plants and cars

A majority of 61% expressed support for joining the treaty. In June 2002, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations re-asked the same question and found support had increased to 70% for the Kyoto Treaty. [2]

However respondents do not appear to be highly confident in their views of Kyoto as when polls offer respondents an explicit “no opinion” response many choose it. In March 2004 and March 2005 polls by Gallup asked whether the US should “agree to abide by those provisions of the Kyoto agreement on global warming.” Though this is substantially lower than other findings, it should be noted that respondents were also offered the option “no opinion.” In fact, a fairly sizable minority of 35% in March 2005 and 36% in March 2004 chose “no opinion.” Forty-two percent said the US should abide by them while 23% in March 2005 and 22% in March 2004 said the US should not abide by the Kyoto agreement. [3]

Among those who say they do know a fair amount about Kyoto support has been found to be high. A September 2002 Harris poll asked those who had read, seen, or heard about the international agreements that would require countries to limit their emissions of carbon monoxide and their greenhouse gases (52% of the sample), whether they approved of "the international agreements in Kyoto and Bonn which would require countries to limit their emissions of carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases."—Seventy-three percent approved while 20% disapproved. [4]

Opposition by President Bush

Interestingly, many are not aware that President Bush opposes the Kyoto Protocol. In June 2005, PIPA asked whether President Bush favored the Kyoto Protocol. People were evenly divided with 43% saying, incorrectly that he favors participation and an equal number saying he opposes it. Over the past 5 years these numbers have varied somewhat. In 2002, a plurality of 48% (PIPA) said Bush favors Kyoto and 42% said he opposes it. In June 2004, these results were reversed with 42% saying favors Kyoto and 48% saying he opposes it. Responses were related to support for a particular candidate in the election. In September 2004, only 39% of Bush supporters correctly said Bush opposes participation (51% saying favors). By contrast, 54% of Democrat John Kerry’s supporters correctly identified Bush’s opposition to Kyoto (37% saying favors).[5]

In a series of polls taken in early to mid-2001 respondents were informed that President Bush had decided to not abide by the Kyoto Treaty. Many more Americans opposed this decision than supported it, but the percentage opposing it was significantly lower than the percentage saying that they support the Treaty; presumably due to a loyal response to the President among some respondents—a common response in polls. A July 2001 Gallup poll asked, "As you may know, George W. Bush has decided that the US should withdraw its support from the global warming agreement adopted in Kyoto Japan in 1997. Do you approve or disapprove of this decision?" Even though the Treaty received implicit criticism by Bush's opposition and no arguments were presented in support, only 32% approved; 51% said that they disapproved of the decision, and 17% gave no opinion. A Pew poll of April 2001 found 25% approval and 47% disapproval (28% don't know/refused) of Bush's decision. An April 2001 Gallup poll found the highest level of approval—41%, with 48% disapproving, in response to a question that elaborated Bush's argument that "the treaty places too much of an economic burden on the US while demanding little of developing countries," but presented no argument in support. [6] An April 2001 Zogby poll that asked respondents to choose between a statement in favor of Bush's decision and a statement against it found 53% endorsing the statement in opposition, while just 35% endorsed the one in favor of Bush's decision.[7]

When offered the option of saying that they do not know enough to evaluate this decision by Bush, a plurality takes it. in a June 2001 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that offered this option, only 19% supported Bush's position, 31% opposed it, and 48% said that they did not know enough to say. [8]

Related to President Bush's decision to not support the Kyoto Treaty was his decision to not require reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, despite his campaign promise to do so. This decision was opposed by a strong majority. In an April 2001 Pew poll 67% disapproved. [9] An April 2001 Los Angeles Times poll elaborated on Bush's reasons--adding, "He said that requiring carbon dioxide controls at this time would add too much to the cost of power production and that the nation instead needs an overall national energy strategy"—and found a more modest majority of 54% opposed, while 34% supported Bush's decision.[10]

Asked why Bush made this decision on carbon dioxide emissions, a plurality to a majority attributed it to pressure from, or his connections to, the energy industry. The April 2001 Los Angeles Times poll found 45% saying that it was because "Bush and some of his key advisors are closely allied with the energy industry," while 36% said it was because "Bush now believes that there is not enough proof that carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming to justify the costs." [11] A Newsweek poll taken the same month found 53% saying that it was because of "special interest pressures from coal producers and others in the energy industry," while just 29% said it was because of "doubts about whether there is enough hard scientific evidence for such regulation and concerns about its effect on consumer energy prices." [12]

Finally, it appears that even among those who are sympathetic to Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Treaty, many feel that he should come up with some plan for addressing global warming. In a June 2004 PIPA poll, a strong 79% of all respondents said that the President should "develop a plan to reduce the emission of gases that may contribute to global warming." Only 19% said the President should not develop a plan. This was up significantly from a March 2001 Time/CNN poll in which 67% agreed and a slightly higher 26% disagreed. [13]

Response to Level of Cuts at Kyoto Conference

When the Kyoto Treaty was being negotiated in 1998, a strong majority supported the level of emissions cuts proposed, even when informed that the US had originally sought less deep cuts, and a plurality leaned toward deeper cuts. Most recently, even when told that the "United States government says that it cannot accept the Kyoto and Bonn agreements to limit emissions of greenhouse gases because they are not based on sound research and would damage the American economy," 54% of Americans thought the American position was wrong, while 30% thought it was right (Harris, September 2002). [13a]

In PIPA's April 1998 poll-shortly after the Kyoto negotiations-- respondents were also asked to evaluate the proposed levels of cuts for the Kyoto Treaty. The Kyoto agreement was described to respondents as follows:

At the conference there was a dispute about how much to reduce the emission of gasses that produce global warming. The debate was about how much the industrialized countries should commit to reduce their emissions by about the year 2010. [Some] [The US] wanted to see reductions to the level these countries were emitting in 1990. [Others] [The European Union] wanted to see reductions of 15% below the levels these countries were emitting in 1990. At the conference in Kyoto, it was agreed that most industrialized countries would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 7-8% below 1990 levels.

As noted, for half the sample, the differing positions were described as the positions of "some" and "others," while for the other half, they were described as positions of the US (1990 levels) and the EU (15% below 1990 levels).

Even when the US position was identified, few favored it. Among the half-sample who did not hear the US and EU positions identified, only 9% thought the treaty's reductions in emissions are too deep; 30% thought they are not deep enough; and 49% thought the agreement is about right. Among the half-sample who heard the US and EU positions identified, support for the US position that had wanted less deep reductions in emissions was 21%, support for the EU position that had sought deeper cuts was 29%, and 44% thought the agreement was "about right." Among the half-sample who did not hear the US and EU positions identified, only 9% thought the treaty's reductions in emissions are too deep; 30% thought they are not deep enough; and 49% thought the agreement is about right.[14]

Thus a strong majority expressed support for the Kyoto Treaty, even when informed that it called for significantly deeper cuts than the original US position. Among those not informed of the US position, 79% said the Treaty was either "about right" or "not deep enough." Among those who were informed, 73% held these positions.

When pressed to be more precise about their preferred levels, a plurality favors deeper cuts. Respondents who said the Kyoto Treaty was "about right" were asked in a follow-on question which way they leaned. Among those who did not have the US and EU positions identified, 8% (of the total sample) said they leaned toward feeling the reductions were too deep, raising the total to 16%; while 18% said they were not deep enough, raising the total to 48%. Twenty-three percent held to the view that the reductions are "about right." Among those who were informed of the US and EU positions, 20% migrated to the "too deep" position, raising the total to 41%; 14% migrated to the "not deep enough" position, raising the total to 43%; while 10% held to the "about right" position.

Thus, even when the US position was identified, a plurality of 43% leaned in favor of the European position calling for deeper cuts, though not quite as high as the 48% leaning in that direction when the positions were not identified. However, when the positions were identified, support for the position calling for less deep cuts was dramatically higher (41%) than when the US position was not identified (16%).

The Mellman Group has found similar results. In September 1998, after a description of the Kyoto Treaty as calling for the US to reduce its emissions 7% by the year 2010, 41% said this amount seemed about right, 9% said it goes to far, while 34% said it does not go far enough.[15] In August 1997, before the Kyoto conference, Mellman asked about a proposal for an international agreement on emissions cuts: "It has been proposed that the nations of the world agree to reduce their CO2 emissions by 20% by the year 2005 in order to significantly slow down the rate of global warming." Seventy-two percent said they favored this proposal, while 9% said they opposed it (19% were undecided).[16]

In the week following the December 1997 Kyoto conference, Harris asked questions about the treaty to respondents who said they had been aware of the conference (55% of the total sample). Within this group, 74% said they approved "of the tentative treaty which would require industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases to below the 1990 level of emissions" (21% disapproved); 72% of this group found the agreement either "about right" (41%) or "not strict enough" (31%), while 18% said the agreement was "too strict." [17]