The University of Michigan’s National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE) is a biannual survey of public opinion surrounding issues of climate and energy policy, providing perhaps the best snapshot we could ever hope for in regard to how Americans stand on subjects like coal, renewables, climate science, geoengineering, a carbon tax, and a host of other climate-related topics. Late last year, to commemorate its 10th anniversary of publication, NSEE released a trove of reports that illustrate just how much public opinion has changed on these matters over the past decade.
One of them in particular should strike fear into the hearts of the coal industry’s dead-enders and spark joy in the hearts of the rest of us. It shows that between 2016 and 2017, the number of Americans who strongly support a coal phaseout increased 11 percentage points, from 18 percent to 29 percent. In that same one-year period, the number of Americans who oppose a phaseout fell by the same amount. Remarkably, in states with active coal mines, strong support for a phaseout rose even more: by 13 points. Just as remarkably, this trend seemed to cut across political lines, rising among Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Among the last group, strong support for a phaseout actually increased by 5 percentage points, whereas the number of Republicans who strongly oppose it fell by 14 points.