While the American population stands divided heading into this year’s presidential election, there’s one thing the majority of Americans can agree on: expanding the use of renewables.
A new survey by Pew Research found that 89 percent of Americans favor building more solar farms, with just 9 percent opposed. A similarly large share support the development of wind farms, with 83 percent in favor and 14 percent opposed.
Support comes from across the political spectrum. Some 83 percent of conservative Republicans favor more solar projects, as well as virtually all (97 percent) of liberal Democrats. There’s also strong agreement on the expansion of wind energy, with 73 percent of conservative Republicans in favor and 93 percent of liberal Democrats.
When it comes to residential solar, 41 percent of Americans say they’ve given “serious consideration” to installing solar panels at home, including 4 percent that have already done so. Financial benefits followed by environmental concerns were cited as the primary reasons for going solar.
“One spot of unity in an otherwise divided environmental policy landscape is that the vast majority of Americans support the concept of expanding both solar and wind power,” Pew wrote in a blog post.
The Pew survey is the latest addition to a growing body of research that finds that renewables, a major source of job growth, enjoy widespread popularity in the U.S. But the survey also revealed that the public is highly divided on expanding the production of fossil fuels and nuclear.
Specifically, the study found that 45 percent of Americans favor more offshore oil and gas drilling, while 52 percent are opposed. On hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for oil and gas, 42 percent are in favor and 53 percent are opposed. Some 41 percent favor more coal mining, while a 57 percent majority are opposed. Finally, 43 percent of Americans support building more nuclear power plants, while 54 percent are opposed.
Unlike renewables, support for fossil fuel energy sources falls along party lines. Among conservative Republicans, 73 percent favor more coal mining, 70 percent favor more fracking and 76 percent favor more offshore drilling. A majority of Democrats oppose expanding the production of these resources, while moderate Republicans stand somewhere in the middle.
The political schism over nuclear energy is smaller. Some 57 percent of conservative Republicans and 51 percent of all Republicans favor more nuclear power plants, while Democrats lean in the opposite direction, with 59 percent opposed and 38 percent in favor.
At the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were asked to share their views on energy policy by Kenneth Bone, an undecided voter, Illinois coal plant operator and overnight internet sensation.
Clinton called for a “comprehensive energy policy” that helps to fight climate change with the rapid deployment of clean, renewable energy, “because I think we can be the 21st-century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.”
Trump said, “I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar,” then went on to say the U.S. energy industry is “under siege” by the Obama administration and that Clinton “wants to put all the miners out of business.” He also gave a nod to expansion of U.S. natural gas production, but did not acknowledge that low gas prices are the primary cause of coal’s downturn. He also touted the benefits of clean coal, a technology that has yet to prove economic at scale.
Clinton was the only candidate to mention climate change in her response, which has consistently ranked as a high priority issue for young voters. It is not a high priority issue for all Americans, however. There is a growing consensus that climate change is a concern, but the Pew survey shows there’s a huge divide on how to address it.
A majority of liberal Democrats see restrictions on power plant emissions, international agreements to limit carbon pollution, tougher efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and corporate tax incentives for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint can make a big difference in combating climate change, according to the study. Less than a third of conservative Republicans see these actions having an impact.
“Political fissures on climate issues extend far beyond beliefs about whether climate change is occurring and whether humans are playing a role,” Pew wrote.
Whichever presidential candidate takes office in 2017 will have to bridge this divide.