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Protesters want justice — including on social, economic and climate demands

Our surveys suggest the public supports green stimulus plans

The United States is facing several crises: the coronavirus pandemic; widespread unemployment; rampant inequality, particularly along racial lines; police brutality — and a growing climate crisis. With hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets protesting over the past two weeks, it’s clear that many people are unhappy with how their leaders are handling these crises.

To many experts, the pandemic is just the latest evidence of the connections between climate change, health and racial inequality. For example, burning fossil fuels causes climate change. It also creates air pollution that harms our health.

Yet these issues are also linked to racial inequality. Today, 68 percent of black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant. Similarly, oil and gas facilities are disproportionately located in black, Hispanic and indigenous communities. Hence, people in these communities are breathing dirtier air, making them more likely to die of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

So what does this mean for climate politics? Recognizing the links between climate change and other crises, some politicians have begun to propose policies that address these problems together. Last year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) proposed a Green New Deal resolution that combined solutions to climate change with economic and social programs.

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The state of New York similarly passed a climate law that centers on racial disparities. During the pandemic, New York has also focused on renewable energy in its covid-19 recovery plans.

Our research examines whether the public supports addressing climate change alongside our economic and social problems.

In one study, conducted online last summer, we asked Americans whether they want the federal government to address climate change narrowly or take on the climate crisis alongside broader economic and social problems. In a follow-up study, which we ran last month, we tested whether the public would support including policies to address climate change in federal covid-19 recovery packages. Across the board, we find that linking policy responses increases public support for federal climate action.

People favor linking climate policy with economic and social protections

In a new peer-reviewed paper, which can be freely downloaded, we tested whether linking climate policy with economic and social policy makes good politics. We found it does.

Last summer, we asked a representative sample of 2,476 Americans to choose between two climate policy packages. Some people read about climate policy packages that also included social or economic programs; others saw packages that included only climate policies. Social scientists call this type of experiment a “conjoint design” — it’s a way to measure people’s preferences when facing complex policy choices. When we analyze our conjoint experiment, we can measure whether each individual component of a policy package increases or decreases support for the overall reform.

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In our study, we found unambiguous evidence that Americans support the key idea behind the Green New Deal: addressing climate change alongside economic and social problems.

Compared with a policy package with only climate reforms, including economic policies such as a jobs guarantee, unionized clean energy jobs and retraining for fossil fuel workers increased support for the package by an average of 12 percentage points. While Democrats in our survey viewed these policies more favorably, including economic measures in a climate package does not drive Republicans away.

We found similar results when we added some social policy planks, such as affordable housing and a $15 minimum wage. The social policies we tested increased support for a climate policy package by an average of 11 percentage points. That said, some social policies — such as universal, government-run health insurance and free college — increased the package’s overall popularity but decreased Republican support.

Research suggests that addressing the growing climate crisis will provide benefits to Americans, particularly black, Hispanic and indigenous communities. Left unchecked, climate impacts will continue to disproportionately burden these groups. Our data show that these groups are even more supportive of a Green New Deal. We find that including social and economic policies in climate policy is especially effective at expanding support for climate reforms among communities of color.

The take-home message is clear: Linking climate policy with social and economic reforms makes climate action more popular with the public.

The public supports green stimulus

Last month, we ran a second, nationally representative public opinion study with 1,049 Americans. This time, we aimed to understand how Americans want Congress to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. We asked our survey respondents to choose between two, randomly varied stimulus packages, some of which included climate policies and others that did not.

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Again, our research suggests that linking these crises makes the policy response more popular.

Policy packages that invest in clean energy and transportation are more popular than coronavirus spending that ignores the climate crisis. In our survey, including investments in wind and solar increases support by 8.5 percentage points, making it one of the most popular policy planks that we tested. While clean energy investments are mostly popular among Democrats, including them does not decrease Republican support.

Our results suggest that Americans want Congress to address climate change in coronavirus economic relief packages. Yet, so far, Congress has not focused on green stimulus. Instead, the laws that have passed aim to prop up the fossil fuel industry — even though this approach is not popular with the public.

The climate crisis is still happening

The climate crisis will not take a break during the pandemic. Experts predict intense hurricane and wildfire seasons in 2020. Already, three Atlantic storms were large enough to name this year, a milestone typically reached in August.

These and other climate impacts will fall disproportionately on communities of color, including black Americans — the same groups who are already hit hardest by the covid-19 crisis, unemployment and police brutality.

In each of our studies, we find that policy packages that address the climate crisis alongside income inequality, racial injustice and the economic crisis are more popular among voters. In the future, we might find Congress taking this approach.

Parrish Bergquist is a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and an incoming assistant professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

Matto Mildenberger is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author of “Carbon Captured” (The MIT Press, 2020).

Leah C. Stokes is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the author of “Short Circuiting Policy” (Oxford University Press, 2020).