A new Washington Post-ABC poll reveals that majorities of the American people believe in climate change, are concerned about it, are willing to change their lifestyles and pay more to address it, and want the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases. (Sorry, Newt!) They are, however, ambivalent on cap-and-trade.

It’s worth perusing the results, but I want to emphasize one point, which Brad Plumer alludes to as well: it’s dangerous to take too much from these cap-and-trade questions. Remember that most people don’t know what cap-and-trade is. Only 24 percent of people even know it’s related to the environment.

As a result, public opinion on cap-and-trade is incredibly fluid and highly sensitive to the framing of poll questions. Here’s how the WaPo poll put it:

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There’s a proposed system called “cap and trade.” The government would issue permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. Companies that did not use all their permits could sell them to other companies. The idea is that many companies would find ways to put out less greenhouse gases, because that would be cheaper than buying permits. Would you support or oppose this system?

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As Brad says, that is a rather convoluted and technocratic way of describing C&T. If I were writing the question, I would say:

There’s a proposed system called “cap and trade.” It would set an overall limit on global warming pollution and allow the market to figure out the best way of meeting the limit. Would you support or oppose that system?

I guarantee you’d get higher approval numbers. Which is kind of the point — you can get whatever numbers you want based on how you pitch the policy. This all gets back to a point I made in a previous post: it’s not clear that the public does or even needs to understand or support the specific mechanism whereby the federal government reduces climate pollution. They just want the feds to do it. Most people don’t understand the mechanisms behind Social Security either, but they support the hell out of it.

Speaking of all this, also check out last week’s Sacred Heart University poll on climate issues. It doesn’t test cap-and-trade specifically, but it does get into a lot more depth than WaPo. Here are some interesting tidbits, taken more or less at random, with the best ones bolded:

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  • More than three-quarters of respondents, 77.0%, reported they “strongly support” (51.0%) or “somewhat support” (26.0%) the EPA’s decision to regulate carbon emissions.
  • Given the EPA’s decision to regulate carbon emissions, a large majority of respondents, 94.0%, reported being “very willing” (48.5%) or “somewhat willing” (45.5%) to make significant changes to their lifestyle in order to reduce the impact of climate change.
  • While 68.6% of respondents reported being “very willing” (23.0%) or “somewhat willing” (45.6%), another 26.8% reported being “somewhat unwilling” (8.8%) or “not at all willing” (18.0%) to pay higher prices for “Green” energy sources to support funding for programs that reduce the effect of global warming.
  • Three-quarters of respondents, 78.9%, strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement “information about global warming and climate change is mostly believable.” Another 61.0% strongly or somewhat agreed that “a clear, concise public information campaign would likely motivate me to do more to alter my lifestyle in favor of reducing the effects of climate change.”
  • Half of all respondents, 50.1%, reported they would trust the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to best communicate information to the population. This was followed by government (both federal and local) (28.4%).
  • More than half of respondents, 56.0%, reported that television would be their primary source for news about global warming. This was followed by newspapers (17.9%) and internet (17.4%). [AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!]
  • Wind energy was the energy source considered the safest (94.6% suggested very or somewhat safe). Nuclear energy was perceived the least safe (46.1% suggested very or somewhat safe).

Check out the rest here.