Do Americans Understand Cap-and-Trade?

One poll says Americans don't believe in global warming and another says they strongly support cap-and-trade laws

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According to a weekend poll, Americans are skeptical of climate change. But according to a CNN poll published Tuesday, a majority of Americans think we should enact cap-and-trade legislation to combat it. Where's the confusion?

As it turns out, even the earlier poll showed "modest support" for cap-and-trade legislation, although very few respondents had heard of it.  Commentators think it all has to do with Americans being a little fuzzy on details, but that shouldn't impede the progress of climate change policy. Here are their explanations:

  • Americans Know What They Want, They Just Don't Know What They Know "In these incoherent results," writes David Roberts at environmentalist site Grist, "there is [an] important lesson: quiz Americans on their knowledge and you get confusion; solicit their goals and aspirations and they are clear." So what are their goals? "Poll after poll has shown," explains Roberts, "that the public supports clean energy, supports Obama, and wants legislative action. Those are the polls that matter."
  • Americans Need Their Issues Front and Center Liberal blogger Steve Benen suggests that some of this confusion, and particularly the decline in public global warming belief, comes from "the issue fading from public attention" as matters like the economy and health care have taken over. So, "[i]f there's a renewed push from policymakers to take this seriously, and the debate in the Senate on cap and trade intensifies, the poll numbers should improve as understand[ing] grows." He also notes the support in the Pew poll for legislation, agreeing with Roberts that "Americans ... still want policymakers to act."
  • Americans Are Deeply Confused "[T]he most important statistic" from the Pew poll, asserts the Economist's Democracy in America blog, "is that 14% have heard "a lot" about cap-and-trade and 55% have heard 'nothing at all'. That makes the rest of the mess make sense." What mess? Here's the recap. Americans
      • think climate change is not happening
      • think if it is happening it's not mankind's fault
      • believe the problem is very serious or somewhat serious
      • think there should be a cap-and-trade law
      • but have never heard of it
      • and that Americans should join a global effort to "set standards to address global climate change"
    How about the overall prognosis for climate change policy? Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence thinks it's good: "The push for the Senate bill," she writes, "comes amid signs of a changing, somewhat more hospitable landscape for legislation designed to reduce carbon emissions, curb global warming, and jumpstart new clean-energy industries." The Obama administration, she notes, seems to "always [have] room for one more top priority," while "[t]he opposition," according to a Clean Energy Works spokesman, "is in disarray." Lawrence points to the Chamber of Commerce's problems with global warming opposition.
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