President Joe Biden’s climate image remains a major political liability going into the 2024 election, new polling suggests, even as states begin to tap hundreds of billions of dollars made available for clean energy and other climate-related projects under a landmark bill that Biden signed into law last year.
Most Americans—some 57 percent—disapprove of Biden’s handling of climate change, according to a new poll conducted jointly by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. The poll also found that just a quarter of Americans know “a good amount” or “a great deal” about the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s signature climate law that dedicates about $370 billion to efforts to bring down the nation’s carbon emissions, boost the development of clean energy and reduce the persistent pollution disparities faced by historically marginalized communities.
The legislation, by many metrics, is no small accomplishment. It’s by far the largest federal allocation for climate-related spending ever passed by Congress, with some analyses projecting the law could slash U.S. carbon emissions by 40 percent and save American consumers more than $200 billion on utility bills over the next decade. Under the bill, someone who buys a qualified electric vehicle could receive up to $7,500 back when they file their 2023 taxes, and many households could also be eligible for upwards of $14,000 in tax rebates for installing heat pumps or other all-electric home appliances. Those incentives alone could be a big deal, considering that transportation and buildings together account for two-fifths of the nation’s annual emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But recent surveys, including this week’s Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, suggest there’s a serious knowledge gap between what the Biden administration has done to address climate change and what the American public knows. Another poll, released this spring by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, found that four in 10 registered voters said they knew “nothing at all” about the IRA, while six in 10 voters have heard “a little” about the law.
“The Biden Administration has made some incredible strides in moving the clean energy market and investing in disadvantaged communities,” Jillian Blanchard, director of the climate change program for Lawyers for Good Government, told Inside Climate News. “But it needs to do a better job of communicating these opportunities to the American people and sharing success stories.”
The findings of the recent surveys also imply that President Biden is still struggling to repair his damaged image following several decisions by his administration that were highly unpopular among climate hawks and other progressives who helped Biden win in 2020. Many climate activists have since accused Biden of breaking core campaign promises, including a pledge to ban all oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
“Biden’s performance on climate change has been stronger than any prior U.S. President, but he has broken several key campaign promises about what he would and would not do if elected president,” Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said in an email interview. “Many of the people who are most worried about climate change are disappointed by those broken promises.”
It’s a political threat that has clearly made it onto the administration’s radar. Biden set out Monday on a stumping tour of Western states to tout his efforts to address climate change and draw a stark contrast between him and the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
Drawing that contrast shouldn’t be difficult, considering that several conservative groups have drafted a “battle plan” that would gut environmental spending, stymie clean energy development and fundamentally shift how federal agencies regulate U.S. industries should Trump win reelection next year. As if to make the differences between the two crystal clear, the Biden administration recently announced a bevy of new rule proposals that aim to speed up the permitting of clean energy projects, provide new protections for communities suffering from extreme heat and make cars and trucks more fuel efficient so they produce less carbon dioxide.
In fact, the recent surveys show that while majorities of both Democrats and Republicans disapprove of Biden’s climate efforts, their reasons for disapproving are very different, with liberals wanting Biden to do more and conservatives believing the president is overstepping his authority.
Still, it’s unclear if Biden can sway climate-conscious voters to support him next year—especially young voters. At a Voters of Tomorrow summit two weeks ago, a young climate activist interrupted White House Press Karine Jean-Pierre to criticize the administration’s decision to approve the Willow Project—a major oil and gas drilling venture in Alaska that generated widespread opposition from youth on social media. The video the activist posted online has been viewed more than 10 million times and shared more than 13,000 times as of Tuesday.
“Excuse me for interrupting, but asking nicely hasn’t worked out. A million young people wrote to the administration pleading not to approve a disastrous oil-drilling project in Alaska, and we were ignored,” the activist told Jean-Pierre, receiving applause from the audience. “You have approved multiple projects since then, and more at a faster rate than the Trump administration. We need you to act on your campaign promises.”
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