Climate action is a classic political wedge issue for Democrats. That is, a candidate advocating climate action splits the anti-science Tea Party extremists from independents and even some moderate Republicans who favor cutting carbon pollution.
Given the inexplicable silence on the issue by most Democratic candidates, including the President, it’s been obvious that they don’t know this. And yet every major recent poll has come to be exact same conclusion (see here and links below).
The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article on the subject:
Climate change: why it could be a hot topic on the campaign trail
Climate change had been virtually absent from the campaign until Mitt Romney and President Obama traded jabs at their conventions. Some polls say it could be a vote-getter for Democrats.
The article notes that the President probably wouldn’t have responded to Romney’s mockery of climate action unless team Obama was aware of the various polls on the subject:
Obama and his campaign would be unlikely to be so undisciplined as to get into a national high-profile fight over climate policy if he were going to lose credibility with a public more hungry for jobs than fixing global warming.
But what if climate change turned out to be a good issue – not a boat anchor? That’s exactly what public opinion researchers at George Mason, Yale, and Stanford universities have been finding in national polls last year and this year.
To extend the metaphor, rather than being an anchor, climate change is an outboard motor or a mainsail that can allow a stalled candidacy to pick up speed:
Obama and other Democratic candidates, instead of paying a political penalty for hitting global warming as an issue on the campaign trail – actually benefit.
“Our polling shows that in swing states, Democratic candidates who take a pro-climate-action stance will find it to be a vote winner for them,” says Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia, who produced the poll. “The extra votes will come from independents.”
I posted a discussion by Maibach on this very topic last year (see “Polling Expert: Is Obama’s Reluctance to Mention Climate Change Motivated by a False Assumption About Public Opinion?“).
As a wedge issue, climate change may not be either a net vote getter or loser for Romney, Maibach explained to the CSM:
Unfortunately for Romney, even if he were to win support among independents by raising global warming as a problem to deal with, it would weaken support among his conservative base, researchers say.
“Independents respond to climate change as an issue much more like Democrats than Republicans,” he says. “But for a Republican candidate, taking a pro-climate action station in a general election campaign is neutral impact – winning independent votes, but losing some conservative support.”
Similarly large numbers support renewable energy development as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming, a point that Obama also hammered in his speech.
Of course, mocking your opponent’s pledge to act on climate change, as Romney did in his convention speech, would certainly be a net political loser — if Obama continues to press the issue.
Clearly if Romney uses his mockery to fire up his base but the attack isn’t repeatedly countered by team Obama, then Romney may not lose many independent votes. We will see if Obama is smart enough to seize the initiative on this most important of all (wedge) issues.
- Independents, Other Republicans Split With Tea-Party Extremists on Global Warming
- Pew Poll: Clean Energy Is A Political Wedge Among Republicans
- Gallup: 65% of Americans Have More Guts Than Obama, Support ‘Imposing Mandatory Controls On CO2 Emissions’
- Poll: Large Majority Of Americans Understand Global Warming Made Several Major Extreme Weather Events Worse
- Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent: “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.”