Voters Back Liability For Companies That Mislead About Climate Change: Poll

Support for the idea is especially strong among Democrats and independents.

A majority of registered voters support holding energy companies liable for funding misinformation on the climate crisis, according to a new poll.

Nearly 62% of voters said they’d support legal liability for energy companies or utilities “if it could be proven that they misled the public about the consequences of climate change” in a survey by the progressive pollster YouGov Blue. Of that figure, more than 47% said they “strongly support” such a policy.

Nearly 20% opposed the proposal, of which close to 14% selected “strongly oppose” in the online survey. Roughly 12% said they neither supported nor opposed the idea, and the rest of the respondents were unsure.

Democrats overwhelmingly backed the measure, with 77% in support, 6% opposed and 17% unsure. Among independents, 63% supported the proposal, with 22% opposed and 15% unsure. Republicans, traditionally allies of the fossil fuel industry, were split on the idea, with 39% in support, 38% opposed and 24% unsure.

The poll ― shared with HuffPost by the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, which commissioned it ― comes as massive blazes rage in the Amazon rainforest, which plays a key role in absorbing the globe’s carbon dioxide emissions. An unusually large number of wildfires also have broken out this summer within the Arctic Circle.

Efforts to hold companies liable for helping disseminate falsehoods and misinformation about climate change is already underway in the form of various lawsuits filed by a handful of state attorneys general and municipalities.

Data for Progress

The findings may bolster calls by some Democratic presidential candidates for investigating and potentially prosecuting powerful climate deniers. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who ran a campaign singularly focused on the climate crisis, proposed targeting the foreign climate deniers with anti-corruption laws, and vowed to boost the Justice Department’s resources to probe companies and executives that fund misinformation.

Inslee dropped out of the 2020 race this week. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a top-polling candidate, released a sweeping Green New Deal proposal Thursday that called for “prosecuting” the fossil fuel industry “for the damage it has caused.”

“Sanders’ plan to hold corporations accountable for climate change is not only morally urgent, it is politically effective,” Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee said by email. “Democrats should target the corporate polluters that voters overwhelming despise.”

He added that “in swing districts, fossil fuel companies make for an appealing target.”

Across the political spectrum, the poll found less voter support on divesting pension funds from investments in fossil fuel companies. Among Democrats, 52% supported the idea, 38% were unsure and 8% opposed. Just 27% of independents backed it, with 42% unsure and 31% opposed. A majority of Republicans ― 54% ― opposed such a move, with 34% unsure and only 11% in support.

“Democrats should target the corporate polluters that voters overwhelming despise.”

- Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee

Clear partisan divides emerged on questions of funding a space race-style public investment in renewable electricity and banning hydraulic fracturing, the controversial drilling technique known as “fracking.”

On a space race-style investment in creating a carbon-free electrical grid by 2040, 64% of Democrats were in support, 27% were unsure and just 8% opposed. Among independents, 47% supported the idea, 28% were unsure and 24% opposed. Republicans, once again, were largely against the idea, with 49% opposed, 31% unsure and only 21% in support.

Banning fracking elicited similar numbers. Sixty-three percent of Democrats supported a ban and 19% were unsure, while another 19% opposed. Independents supported the idea by 44%, while 21% were unsure and 36% opposed. Just 26% of Republicans supported banning fracking, with 24% unsure and 50% opposed.

The poll was conducted among 1,380 voters and findings for the entire sample group have a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.

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