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CBS News Poll – Eye on Earth: What Drives Views About Electric Cars?

Americans’ collective thinking about electric cars is a bit … in the middle of the road. A third of respondents say they buy an electric vehicle (EV) and another third say they might do so. A little over a third wouldn’t. In contrast, most would still consider a traditional gasoline-powered one. But behind that we find views that come from very different places.

It is clear that this is at least a matter of practicality. When asked why they wouldn’t consider none, most of the responses said they felt these cars cost too much, couldn’t go far enough on a single charge, and that there weren’t enough charging points on the road.

Given this, people who make more money are more likely to consider one (though not overwhelmingly we should add), and people who live in the suburbs are slightly more likely than people in rural areas to consider an electric vehicle.

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But an even bigger difference? It is this phenomenon that is fueling so much public opinion now: partisanship.

Democrats are far more likely to say they would buy an electric car than Republicans. This applies wherever the two groups live: in cities or rural areas.

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It’s not entirely clear how much is wrapped up in partisan affiliation. Republicans tend to be negative about electric cars for all of the above practical driving issues such as range and cost, and few Republicans directly disapprove of them as simply not “what people like me drive”. Part of this stance seems to be linked to their broader approach to climate change, as Republicans are less likely to believe that climate change needs to be addressed – a view that would appear to add to perceived inconvenience or costs of switching to electricity impractical or simply unnecessary.

On the contrary, Democrats believe that climate change is widely seen as urgent, and this in turn appears to lead them to at least express consideration of electric cars. We can see that part of this philosophy works at all income levels. Higher-income Democrats are more likely to say they would buy one than lower-income Democrats – not surprising given the perceived cost barriers. But at any income level, Democrats were relatively more likely than Republicans to say they would consider one.

Next, let’s look at what direction the US should go in terms of electric car policy and manufacturing.

There’s a lot more support for politics promoting electric cars in general than there is for promoting gas cars – by about four to one. In this regard, however, Republicans tend to think that the government should not take a stand. And for automakers who have announced they are phasing out gasoline cars, two-thirds of the public think it’s a good idea. Democrats and Joe Biden 2020 voters, in line with other views, especially think so, and Republicans and Donald Trump voters in particular do not.

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This CBS News poll was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,003 US citizens interviewed between April 13-16, 2021. This sample was weighted by gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Bureau of the Census community survey, as well as the 2020 presidential election and registration status. The error rate is ± 2.8 points.

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