If Republican presidential candidates are looking to win votes in key swing states, they may want to change their tone on climate change.
A poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University found that a majority of voters in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia agree with Pope Francis that the world should increase efforts to combat the phenomenon, which scientists say is caused by carbon emissions. Those voters also overwhelmingly believe that climate change is caused by human activity, a fact that many Republican presidential candidates have so far been wary to address or accept.
Each of the three states’ voters agreed that climate action is needed by approximately 2-1 margins, with anywhere from 62 to 65 percent of voters agreeing and 25 to 31 percent disagreeing, depending on the state.
Those wide margins were largely decided by Democrats and politically independent voters, who agreed that climate action is important by wide margins in all three states. Democrats had particularly wide margins, with almost all self-identified Democrats saying that climate action should be a priority. In Colorado, 93 percent agreed, as did 90 percent of Iowa Democrats and 84 percent of Virginia Democrats.
But a good deal of Republicans also agreed with Pope Francis’ call to do more on climate. In all three swing states, Republicans disagreed that climate action is important, but by drastically closer margins than by which the Democrats agreed. In Iowa, only 44 percent of Republicans didn’t want action on climate change, while 40 percent did. Similarly, only 46 percent of Virginia Republicans disagreed, as did 53 percent of Colorado Republicans.
However, voters were all around reluctant to say that climate change is a moral issue, which runs contrary to the rhetoric frequently used by both Pope Francis and President Obama to defend climate action. Both leaders have argued that the detrimental impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor, particularly those living in developing countries.
In Iowa and Virginia, 50 percent of voters said climate change is not a moral issue, while 44 percent said that it is. In Colorado, voters said climate change was not a moral issue by a 57-41 percent margin.
But even if morality is not the reason, voters in those three swing states still do want action on climate change, if the poll is any indication. That could present a challenge to many high-profile Republican candidates who are still reluctant to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real, harmful, and caused by humans. Marco Rubio has said “there’s no consensus” on the science; Ted Cruz has compared climate scientists to “flat-Earthers;” and Rand Paul has said the idea that humans cause climate change is “alarmist stuff.” Jeb Bush also recently called the idea that there’s a scientific consensus on climate change “intellectual arrogance,” though 97 percent of actively publishing researchers agree with the idea.
One of the only Republican presidential candidates to publicly accept the science of climate change is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has previously called on members of his party to evolve on the issue.
“Here’s a question you need to ask everybody running as a Republican: What is the environmental policy of the Republican party?” he said last month. “When I ask that question, I get a blank stare.”
The results of Thursday’s poll came from phone interviews conducted by Quinnipiac from July 9 to July 20. In each state, approximately 1,200 voters were surveyed, and each state’s results had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.