Bombshell: Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent

Talking 'Green' Can Help Candidates Win Votes, Study Finds

Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick and his colleagues analyzed the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 congressional election.  They found:

“Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” Krosnick said. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.”

I asked Krosnick by email about the implications of his research for the President who has all but dropped “climate change” from his vocabulary.  Krosnick answered:

Our research suggests that it would be wise for the President and for all other elected officials who believe that climate change is a problem and merits government attention to say this publicly and vigorously, because most Americans share these views.  Expressing and pursuing green goals on climate change will gain votes on election day and seem likely to increase the President’s and the Congress’s approval ratings.

I’ve talked to senior officials from the Administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that climate change is not a winning issue politically (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?).

And it is nonsense.  Prof. Edward Maibach, Director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, made the exact same point in a Climate Progress guest post last month: “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?

At the end, I repost yet again the umpteen polls that support this painfully obvious conclusion.  This new election analysis supports earlier polling analysis by Krosnick, which found:

“Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change – acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action – according to a June 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University.”

Krosnick’s new study, “The Impact of Candidates’ Statements about Climate Change on Electoral Success in 2008 and 2010: Evidence Using Three Methodologies” here.  Let’s look at some more of its findings,  particularly at the presidential level:

A political candidate’s electoral victory or defeat is influenced by his or her stance on climate change policy, according to new Stanford University studies of the most recent presidential and congressional elections.

“These studies are a coordinated effort looking at whether candidates’ statements on climate change translated into real votes,” said Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and of political science at Stanford, who led two new studies – one of the 2008 presidential election and one of the 2010 congressional elections. “All this suggests that votes can be gained by taking ‘green’ positions on climate change and votes will be lost by taking ‘not-green’ positions.”

The findings are consistent with Krosnick’s previous research on voters’ preferences in a hypothetical election. Taken together, the studies make a strong case that for candidates of any party, saying climate change is real and supporting policies aimed at tackling the issue is a good way to woo voters, said Krosnick, a senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

“Recently, we’ve seen many politicians choose to say nothing about climate change or to take aggressive skeptical stances,” Krosnick said. “If the public is perceived as being increasingly skeptical about climate change, these strategies would be understandable, but our surveys have suggested something different.”

Voters preferred “greener” President

In the presidential election study, Krosnick and his colleagues asked voters for their opinions about climate and politics before and after the 2008 election. The research team conducted online surveys to reach a nationwide sample of voters.

Before the election, the researchers asked voters whether they supported or opposed government policies to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions. The survey also asked what voters thought of Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s positions on climate change. After the election, the voters reported if and for whom they had voted.

Not surprisingly, more people who said their own views on climate change were closer to Obama’s position than to McCain’s voted for Obama. This tendency was especially true among voters who cared a lot about climate change and persisted regardless of the voter’s ideology, party affiliation, preferred size of government and opinion about President Bush’s job performance.

Of course, since the election, Obama’s messaging has become truly dreadful.  And in a world where you turn the triumph on healthcare reform into a political liability, where you buy into and repeat the pernicious right-wing frame on issues from the debt ceiling to clean air for kids (!), then perhaps whatever you talk about will turn out to be a political loser.

But the fact remains that the public strongly supports climate action and aggressive clean energy policies even during the depths of the recession, even in the face of an unprecedented fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign during the climate bill debate — even without the White House using its bully pulpit to tip the scales further (see “Memo to policymakers: Public STILL favors the transition to clean energy” and links below):

From what you've read and heard, in general, do you favor or  oppose setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies  pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices?

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13 Responses to Bombshell: Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent

  1. Ryan says:

    I like what this study shows, but it seems to have one very obvious flaw. I think the candidates willing to take that stance were more likely to be already in some solidly blue country. Did the study account for this? How would you(or how did they) tease that out of the data?

  2. David B says:

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, are the data detailed enough to rule out the possibility that “silent” democrats were silent specifically because they were in more competitive areas, and thus would be expected to lose more often even if remaining silent is the best strategy? This wouldn’t explain the findings on the other side of the aisle, but I want to make sure we explore that possible avenue for correlation. That said, I sure hope these conclusions are correct!


  3. Michael Tucker says:

    OK, you studied the 2010 congressional elections and you claim that “…candidates of any party, saying climate change is real and supporting policies aimed at tackling the issue is a good way to woo voters.”

    So, given the overwhelming success of Republican candidates, I’m sure it will be easy for you to supply the actual names of the Republicans who won and who also said climate change is real and who ALSO supported policies aimed at tackling the issue…my uninformed guess is there aren’t any! Please prove me wrong because I am ready to see some small improvement with the “I can say stupider things than you and still get elected” crowd.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    They didn’t look at policies for the 2010 analysis, I believe.

  5. Joe Romm says:

    If you read the analysis, you’ll see that takes pleasantly looked at the swing district issue.

  6. Joe Romm says:

    Did you read the study? They explicitly looked at competitive districts.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Has It Occurred To Anyone?

    Has it occurred to anyone that given the overwhelming scientific view that climate change is real and so forth — in other words, given that it IS real — ultimately the most effective and necessary thing for a politician to do is to think so, say so, be clear about it, help explain why, and help lead?

    This idea apparently doesn’t occur to many folks — especially to those enmeshed in politics or in analyses that, as correct as they may be as analyses, seem to accept the paradigm from which politicians see things, and thereby seem to condone that paradigm.

    It reflects a condescending view — a poor view of humankind — to think that ultimately more people will respond to dishonesty or silence than will value hearing the truth, if it’s put clearly and well, and if they are also helped to understand why it’s in their own interest to understand the truth.

    What is “the public good” — being told a lie, or being tricked into policies without understanding why? And what is “leadership” — having someone parrot back to you what they think you already think, to make you dumb and create a self-fulfilling cycle of mutual ignorance?

    Obama is not leading. THAT is a central problem. He HAS access to the leading scientists; he understands, or at least he SHOULD understand. Most people in the U.S. don’t have such access. Part of leading is telling the honest truth, clearly and convincingly, on matters of vital importance. Perhaps that idea is not part of a lawyer’s mindset; perhaps it’s not part of an excellent legal education. If that’s the case, we’re in trouble, because not only did Obama go to Harvard Law School, but Romney did as well (and to Harvard B-School).

    The surest way to get tangled up in playing with one’s own belly-button; the surest way to enter into a circle of confusion and self-doubt; the surest way to adopt a philosophy that ultimately leads to the very opposite of leadership; is to convince oneself that avoiding truth or hiding it is the best policy.

    At this point we should be demanding — not asking — that President Obama tell it like it is. Indeed, anyone who has read the original justifications for the existence and valid aims of government — e.g., John Locke and etc. — will understand that, in a very real and important sense, a President is simply not living up to those justifications and aims if he understands a problem such as climate change and yet chooses to not communicate the problem clearly, to not show strong leadership, and to not lead the public and nation to deal with the problem straightforwardly and effectively. Period.


  8. todd tanner says:

    What we’re seeing here is a wave of climate hypochondria, or “climochondria”: The mistaken belief that tackling America’s climate & energy issues will hurt you during the next election cycle. When all the available evidence tells us that the exact opposite is true.

  9. Raul M. says:

    It’s always nicer to hear someone say “oh, I’m so sorry that happened”, but given the inaction by some current leaders it won’t help them to try to say “I don’t know or believe that” when it is a direct fault from their actions. They may think that if they are aggressive it would help save them from liability or to say that the loan and funds they approved couldn’t have had anything to do with that act of god. But the people do have a way of finding out when there is a great injustice to their interests. Maybe it is news to them politicians.
    You know that this year the nuke plant along that river had flood water come into a secured area?
    You know that this year an earthquake shut down a nuke in DC area.
    If the actions taken turn out to be turn the other way or to be aggressive to people who say WTF.
    People may start to get the idea that there has been a great injustice to their interests.

  10. Michael Tucker says:

    That is a shame about actual policies to “tackle the issue” for Republican congressman. It would be nice to know which Republicans who won in the 2010 elections even admitted that “climate change is real.” Again I don’t think you will be able to find any. Red state congressional candidates running for the Republican ticket know who their constituents are and they will continue to deny the science; it’s the Republican third rail. In a general election for President the story is different, 2008 was different, since then McCain claimed that “I never said I was a maverick.” I suspect in this election the Republican candidate will not even admit “climate change is real” and that talking about climate change will not help one bit in the primary. But with a two-faced double-talking shape shifter like Romney I guess anything is possible.

    I think the only political candidate who will be helped at all by taking a “green” position on climate change will be President Obama. Please take that position Mr President!

  11. Brian R Smith says:

    “I’ve talked to senior officials from the Administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that climate change is not a winning issue politically..”

    If this is the nut of the thing, that team Obama thinks climate change is not a political winner, what can you tell us, Joe, about the prospects -if any- of turning this around (short of a major climate catastrophe in the next few months)?

    Surely the team is not ignorant of the polls, of the science -or the practical & moral foolishness of doing nothing.

    Is there nobody there who believes that

    1)clean energy investment & deployment IS a win/win policy for the planet and US jobs creation?

    2)that this direction would secure dem/independent enthusiasm for his campaign or

    3) his legacy as president depends on whether or not he deals with climate change?

    Would David Axelrod, Jim Messina, et al, sit down with CAP, Yale, PEW, congressional climate hawks and a table full of climate scientists to hear the pitch and talk policy?

  12. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    “I’ve talked to senior officials from the Administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that climate change is not a winning issue politically [snip]

    And it is nonsense.”

    I’d fully agree it is nonsense, but what else can he or his team say ?

    At every turn for three years he has acted out the foreigb policy priority of the standoff with China – to see “who can ignore global warming the longest” – and the White House cannot under any circumstances admit it – which means most staff will have been told to believe and repeat the rubbish that the polls disprove.

    The core nonsense is that after three years in office, he’s somehow still totally ignorant of very basic poll results – that climate could have been THE winning strategy of all home policies – and that the crazy ignorance has somehow been maintained despite all the new brooms that have come onto the team ? And all the desperation to find something on which Obama can both show leadership and split the GOP vote ? And all the dread of quite how bad the economy will be by this time next year ?

    It has to be something on the scale of preserving the dominance of US global hegemony to warrant such a degree of commitment – and notably China is the only rival around . . .

    As for the findings over the bad outcomes in the mid-terms for those Dems who followed the party line – and the good outcomes for those who ignored it and followed their own polling, what exactly was Rahm Emanuel’s job ? It wasn’t to chew the feet off republicans – it was remarkable how little of that he did. – It would have been a waste of dog food to keep a pit-bull like him for that role. His job was, in part, to keep democrat politicians ruthlessly on side with the White House policy of silence on climate.

    Obama would not be president if he didn’t accept poll findings. He knows they’re right, and he also knows that breaking China’s bid for global dominance by climatic destabilization would, in theory, be incomparably cheaper that what the right wing would willingly attempt with armed force – rather than cede US global dominance to a bunch of asian commies.

    Obama’s problem is American nationalism, not incompetence in his poll-monitoring staff.



  13. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Michael –

    from the article:

    ““Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” Krosnick said. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.”