If Donald Trump had received 70% of the vote in last November’s election, we would hear no end of boasting about his incontrovertible mandate from the American people. As it turned out, with only 46% of the electorate voting for him, his victory fell far short of a mandate.
That’s not to say he is without one, however. There is one set of issues on which the American people have given the President very clear direction. In response, he has worked tirelessly in his first 100 days to put the country on the opposite course.
The President’s mandate consists of three interconnected parts: protect the environment, make renewable energy a higher priority than fossil fuels, and collaborate with the international community to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. These marching orders have been expressed through many credible public opinion polls. While Trump’s own election proved that polls are not infallible, good-quality polling is the best tool we have to understand the American people’s priorities between elections. So what have the people been saying?
Environmental protection: Before the election, 74% of American adults told pollsters “the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment”. The strength of that priority has been consistent for at least 20 years. In addition, polling by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications showed that 69% of the American people want strict limits on CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and 75% of adults want CO2 regulated as a pollutant. Research released last February found that nearly 60% of Trump voters say environmental protection should be a higher priority than oil, coal and gas production.
Instead, Trump has initiated the greatest rollback of environmental protection in the nation’s history. He has taken steps to prevent limits on carbon pollution from power plants and methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure. Both are potent gases that accelerate global warming. In line with his campaign promise to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump has proposed that the agency’s budget be cut by 31%.
Energy priorities: In January, the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Americans want renewable energy resources like wind and solar to be a higher priority than expanding oil, gas and coal production. Only 27% said the country should emphasize fossil fuels. Gallup found in March that nearly three-quarters of Americans (71%) agreed that alternative energy should be the nation’s highest priority.
Instead, Trump has embraced a “drill baby drill” and “dig baby dig” energy policy. He has promised to revive the coal industry. In March, he issued an executive order directing the review of all federal regulations that “potentially burden” the production of oil, gas and coal. He is permitting the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, off America’s coasts, and on public lands including wilderness areas currently protected as national monuments.
The Paris agreement: In 2015, weeks before nearly 200 nations reached an international climate agreement in Paris, 63% of the American people including a majority of Republicans said they wanted the United States to sign on. After last fall’s election, 71% of the American people, including 57% of Republicans and 69% of registered voters said that the United States should remain in the Paris climate deal.
Instead, Trump is considering withdrawing America from the agreement. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he thinks the United States should remain a signatory but renegotiate the accord – an unrealistic prospect since it has been signed by 196 other countries as the result of more than 20 years of deliberations.
Climate Change: In 2016, pollsters at the Yale Project reported that 70% of the American people acknowledge that global warming is already underway, 53% said it is caused by human activities and 71% said they trust climate scientists. Gallup found last month that “Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue.” The Yale Project has found that 51% of the public believes that climate change is already harming people in the U.S. and 70% say climate change will harm future generations. More than 60% of voters say Trump should not remove regulations designed to limit climate change.
Nevertheless, while trying to upsize fossil energy production and downsize pollution controls, Trump has repealed at least six of President Obama’s orders that addressed climate change including Obama’s comprehensive climate action plan, the core of America’s commitments to the international community. Among the orders that Trump has rescinded were several that directed federal agencies to prepare for the impacts of climate change, ensuring that the government is ill-equipped to deal with the increasingly severe and disruptive effects of global warming.
Energy research: 82% of the Americans polled by the Yale Project, including 71% of Trump voters, want more research on renewable resources. In another poll, 72% said it is a “bad idea” to cut funding for science research on the environment and climate change.
Nevertheless, Trump has proposed devastating budget cuts for research at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the ARPA-E energy research program at DOE, atmospheric research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s earth science program, which studies climate changes and tracks its impacts.
At the beginning of April, Gallup asked whether President Trump is doing a good job protecting the environment. Only 36% of the respondents said yes. Gallup asked whether the president is improving the nation’s energy policy. Only 46% said yes.
To put it mildly in the words of one analyst, Trump’s actions so far have been “at odds with public opinion in America and…counter to market forces shaping the energy industry.” If President Trump wants a mandate, he has one. But in his first 100 days, he has done everything in his power to ignore it.