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Nearly half of Republicans favor this kind of carbon tax, contrary to GOP platform

AP

A clear majority of Americans, and about half of all Republicans, would support a carbon tax if it meant taxes were reduced elsewhere, according to a new survey.

Those findings stand at odds with much of the rhetoric from Republican politicians, whose party line explicitly opposes charging fossil fuel companies a fee for damaging the environment.

Overall, two in three registered voters support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax so long as income or other taxes are reduced. This is often referred to as a "revenue neutral carbon tax."

Democrats were the group most likely to support such a policy, with 81 percent of them in favor. About 60 percent of independents said they would support this type of policy. But 49 percent of Republicans said they'd support the idea as well.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication. It was based on a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 registered voters.

"Party platforms are written by party elites, and they often don't represent their full constituencies," said Anthony Leiserowitz, who co-authored the study, in an interview with CNBC.

A representative for the Republican National Committee was not immediately available for comment. But the 2016 GOP platform explicitly states that it opposes "any carbon tax."

"It would increase energy prices across the board, hitting hardest at the families who are already struggling to pay their bills in the Democrats' no-growth economy," the platform says. "We urge the private sector to focus its resources on the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology still in its early stages here and overseas."

President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly expressed doubts about whether carbon pollution is even affecting the climate, famously referring to it as a hoax engineered by the Chinese to hamper American businesses. Since the election, Trump has filled some key positions in his administration with people close to fossil fuel companies.

But most Americans still want the government to take action on climate change and carbon pollution, Leiserowitz said. Those preferences were simply not reflected in the election results, he added.

"This is the tension that we will all be witnesses to: how President Trump is going to navigate these gaps, in some cases yawning gaps, between what Americans as a whole want, or even some of his own supporters want," and the policies he may implement, he said.

Leiserowitz was careful to note that "none of us really know what Donald Trump's climate change policies are going to be." At the same time, "I think it very fair to say there is a very large number of what we would call 'climate change doubters' or 'climate change deniers,'" in Trump's administration, Leiserowitz said. "That is probably not a good sign."

A spokesperson for the president-elect did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

To be sure, there are a number of Americans, including some Democrats, who doubt that humans are affecting the planet's climate, or do not support measures to curb emissions. Whereas 95 percent of liberal Democrats favor taxing or regulating carbon emissions (or doing both), a slightly lower 85 percent who identify as moderate or conservative show support.

Public engagement on climate change reached a high around 2007, when a number of significant events stoked public interest and concern. Former Vice President Al Gore directed the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," for which he would later win an Academy Award and share a Nobel Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even some Republican politicians, including former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, showed an interest in taking on climate change.

But interest plummeted along with the rise of the tea party, eventually bottoming out in 2010, Leiserowitz said. Public concern has once again picked up and is approaching the levels seen in 2007.

Over the last two years, conservative Republicans are the single group that has most significantly changed its tune on climate change. Over that time, members of this group have increased their belief that climate change is happening by 19 percentage points, Leiserowitz said.

"That is a greater increase than seen in any other group the researchers surveyed," he said.

"And here comes Donald Trump, who has flipped over this card table, along with many others," Leiserowitz said. "And we just don't know what he is going to do."