Polling In Swing States Shows, ‘Candidates Who Take A Pro-Climate-Action Stance Will Find It To Be A Vote Winner’

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.

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8 Responses to Polling In Swing States Shows, ‘Candidates Who Take A Pro-Climate-Action Stance Will Find It To Be A Vote Winner’

  1. BillD says:

    There should be openings for talking about climate change in the presidential debates even if climate change is not directly in the questions. For example, Romney often says: “I don’t agree with the president’s policy of favoring wind and solar power over coal and oil. This is just a matter of the government picking winners in what should be a “free market” economy.”

    I think that just about all Democrats and independents and even a good number of Republicans can see the advantages of reducing green house gases, reducing health-affecting pollutants (mercury, acid rain and soot), improving worker safety (mining vs production, installation and maintainance jobs)and stimulating employment. Really, it doesn’t take much thinking to conclude that renewable energy is better than fossil fuels. At least we can greatly increase the proportion of renewables in our energy mix. Sure makes Romney, Ryan and the tea party faithful look like they are totally in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry.

  2. rgthelg says:

    I like the article … it describes my own biases.
    Alas, the reality of how the candidates talk about Climate Change may be linked to the vociferousness of the deniers … and the fact that funding matters.
    Thus, given these twin assumptions, there may be another disconnect between who votes in elections and who actually decides the outcome.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    I can’t agree with the notion that Obama avoids pushing on climate change issues because he mistakenly believes that it’s dicey politically. As you show here, aggressive action to wean us off oil is a big political winner.

    There is something else going on. Why, for example, did Obama pick Salazar for Interior, and proceed to open up vast areas of public lands for oil, gas, and coal exploitation, including in sensitive areas such as the Arctic? This is the Cheney energy policy, not that of the Democratic base. Maybe Obama is muted on climate change because it’s a little ridiculous to show concern while drilling and digging away.

    My knowledge of the current state of insider politics in DC is weak. Maybe somebody else can explain how these decisions are arrived at. I suspect that money is in the middle of it, in the form of banksters fanning fears of economic collapse. This is also false, since the only thing that would really collapse would be the stock valuations of the fossil fuel companies- right where the .1% park their money.

  4. Mike says:

    I think the reason Democrats avoid the issue is because once you start talking about the problem you need to talk about solutions. Quickly the charge will come from the right the Dems want higher energy prices. This charge is hard to refute in a sound bite on the news or a TV ad. I don’t think polls can capture this dynamic.

    It is similar to discussing the Affordable Care Act. Everyone likes the provisions for people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance, but few support the individual mandate that makes this possible.

  5. sailrick says:


    “This is just a matter of the government picking winners in what should be a “free market” economy.”

    No Mitt
    It is more like picking life over death.

  6. sailrick says:

    I mean, do you want leaders making decisions on energy and environment based on science, or creationism?

    GOP Rep Fred Upton says there can be no global warming because God won’t allow it to happen.

    Senator Inhofe says
    “Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

    GOP Rep. Shimkus:
    “Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”

    GOP Rep Joe Barton
    “We Shouldn’t Regulate CO2 Because ‘It’s In Your Coca-Cola’ And ‘You Can’t Regulate God’”

    {read about Joe Climate Progress}

    The Founding Fathers would be wondering, “what happened to the Age of Reason”.

  7. sailrick says:

    Which is why the Democrats should be hammering the GOP on climate change.

  8. Tim says:

    I think you’re right – the reason climate change is a nonissue for most Democrats is the money. Candidates may reap some direct vote advantage by talking about climate change, but there is likely an indirect effect: when you raise climate change as an issue, your opponent gets big bucks from fossil fuel plutocrats. The resultant propaganda blitz, whether it comes in talk about climate change, energy, or your Kenyan heritage is where the electoral price is paid.