As Donald Trump moves to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, many observers see the president executing on a political strategy aimed at galvanizing his conservative base. The New York Times’ Peter Baker reports that Trump is heeding the counsel of his chief strategist Steve Bannon and “doubling down on presiding as a minority president.” What Trump “cannot afford,” writes Baker, “is to lose those who still stand by him.” Amber Phillips of the Washington Post similarly observes that from Trump’s perspective, the move “doesn’t win him any new friends, but it does shore up the friends he’s got.”
Trump’s focus on base-cultivation is nothing new and the withdrawal was seemingly on-brand for him. While in the private sector Trump has wisely sought to protect his own properties from the effects of climate disruption, extreme skepticism toward climate science has long been his political posture. In announcing the withdrawal, he fulfilled a campaign promise to cancel an agreement he claims undermines American sovereignty. Conservative media personalities applauded the decision and not-famous Twitter trolls delighted in the prospect of rising sea levels resulting from a flood of #LiberalTears.
But in pulling out of the main international agreement that tries to address climate change, Trump is demonstrating a lack of concern for perhaps the most crucial constituency still standing with him: House Republicans.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll demonstrates just how narrow the “base” energized by this move really is. Americans oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate accord by a margin of 2-to-1, with nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) opposing the decision to just 28 percent who support it.
With public polling and a series of recent special elections suggesting Republicans could face a consequential enthusiasm gap in next year’s midterm elections, this survey finds Trump’s Paris withdrawal unites Democrats more than it unites Republicans. Democrats oppose Trump’s decision by a 74-point margin (82 percent oppose to 8 percent support) while Republicans support it by a 42-point margin (67 percent support to 25 percent oppose).
With the exception of partisan Republicans, the withdrawal proves highly unpopular within key subgroups of voters who helped deliver Trump the White House in November. Independent voters oppose withdrawing from the agreement by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 (63 percent opposed to 22 support). College-educated whites, a group Trump won a narrow plurality of last year, oppose withdrawal by a 32-point margin (65 percent oppose to 33 percent support). And while the announcement may have been designed to appeal to white non-college graduates — 69 percent of whom famously voted for Trump — they too oppose withdrawal by a double-digit margin (49 percent oppose to 33 percent support).
While Trump sought to frame the Paris withdrawal in terms of America’s economic interest, his decision was roundly criticized by business leaders up-and-down the Fortune 500 for it’s potential impact on both the environment and job creation. Economists assert the Paris accord would likely help create about as many jobs in clean energy as it might cost in polluting industries.
Tulchin Research’s polling has consistently found that voters — including swing voters in swing states — broadly reject the false choice between creating jobs and protecting the environment. This is partially a reflection of the economic reality of the United States in 2017, in which clean energy sectors are rapidly growing and creating good jobs.
A recent analysis of U.S. Department of Energy data by the Sierra Club finds that five times as many Americans are now employed in clean energy sectors as are working in coal and gas. Yet without once uttering the words “solar” or “wind,” Trump used his Paris withdrawal announcement as a platform to talk up coal production. In so doing, he doubled down on branding Republicans the champions of America’s dirty energy past — while undermining American competitiveness in the clean energy economy powering the future. It is far from clear that this strategy will pay Electoral College dividends for Trump in 2020. And it is a potentially ruinous posture for his party.
As Democrats seek to reclaim the U.S. House majority in 2018, many Republicans could be feeling the heat over this issue sooner rather than later. In California, where Democrats have announced their intention to target 9 out of 14 Republican-held House seats next year, more than twice as many people now work in solar energy as there are coal miners working in the entire United States.
Already saddled with an unpopular president and deeply unpopular healthcare bill, House Republicans now find their party encamped on the losing side of public opinion on another issue with enormous implications for America’s public health and economic future.
It is now up to Democrats to seize the moment and press the case for American global leadership in the service of high-tech, high-wage job creation and the vitality of our planet.