By Philip Bump
“Americans’ Priorities,” the graph is labelled. Underneath, four issues, and the extent to which Americans feel they require urgent action, as suggested to Pew Research. And so:
The most important issue for Congress to address this year, supported by 70 percent of Americans? The long-term deficit. Least urgent of the four? Climate change. Incorrect, America.
From USA Today:
There is bipartisan agreement on this: Dealing with the budget deficit is urgent.
That’s a change. When Obama took office in 2009, during a cascading financial crisis, Americans put deficit reduction in the middle of a list of policy goals in a Pew poll. Now it has risen near the top. Seven of 10 Americans (including not only 81% of Republicans but also 65% of Democrats) say it is essential for the president and Congress to enact major deficit legislation this year. …
When asked which of four issues was most pressing — the deficit, guns, immigration or climate change — 51% chose the deficit, three times that of any other issue. However, there were some significant differences by race and ethnicity. Hispanics were inclined to choose immigration as the most critical issue; African Americans chose guns.
Here’s the breakdown on the urgency question by political party (compared to “everyone”, which represents the entire pool of respondents).
Even most Democrats don’t see an urgent need for action on climate change — fewer than half say it’s a priority for this year. That’s astonishing.
When Pew asked about specific climate policies, the results were a bit more heartening. (You can read Pew’s summary of the data here.)
For example, people were asked which energy policy is more important: developing alternative energy sources or expanding fossil fuel production. Fifty-four percent of respondents said alternative source development was more important; 34 percent (including a majority of Republicans) said fossil fuel exploration was.
Pew also notes that this is a shift in the recent trend. Support for alternative energy had declined from 2011 to 2012. Now, it’s shot back up.
In part, it’s a function of strong support among young people — which, of course, also correlates to political party.
Pew’s final climate-related question was whether or not respondents support stricter limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, one of the few things Obama can do unilaterally (even if he’s shown no inclination to do so).
Surprisingly, over 60 percent of respondents favor such action — and Republicans were nearly split, 42 percent in favor compared to 48 percent against.
What does all of this mean? Not a lot. Obama has support to act on developing alternative energy and regulating carbon dioxide emissions — at least until the full weight of opposition and Fox News punditry bears down. If there’s one thing this data suggests, it’s that the views of Americans, typically disinterested in the fine mechanics of government, are shaped by pundits and media focus. There’s absolutely no reason for Americans to consider the deficit more important than gun control or immigration, and especially no reason for them to consider the deficit more urgent than climate change, a problem that grows worse by the minute. But that’s not what is discussed on the news and on news websites. And so that’s not what’s reflected in this poll.
We all know the next step. This poll, blurred by insider priorities, will be held aloft by insiders as proof they were right. And some time, hopefully in the next few years, Obama and Congress will actually take steps to fight climate change.
Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.
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