Krosnick: Candidates ‘May Actually Enhance Turnout As Well As Attract Voters Over To Their Side By Discussing Climate Change’

[I’ll be speaking at a panel in DC on this subject Wednesday morning. Details here.]

Last week, I wrote about how climate hawks attacked their Republican opponents for denying climate science in three Senate races — Maine, Nebraska, and Massachusetts.


The Hill has a good follow-up piece, “Climate change emerges as sleeper issue in Senate races” — though I confess I liked their original headline better (see the URL):

Dems use climate change to tag Republicans as extreme

The piece has some valuable analysis from Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick:

… Krosnick, who authored a study on the effects of climate change communication on races nationwide, said that there are subsets of voters who tend to focus in on one issue that could be compelled to turn out if candidates appeal to them on climate change.

They can actually be activated to vote by hearing the Democrat take a green position,” he said. “[Candidates] may actually enhance turnout as well as attract voters over to their side by discussing climate change.”

He added that the current political climate, where neither candidate is a clear winner on significant issues like the economy and jobs, is ripe for issue voters to be swayed on a topic like climate change.

I interviewed Krosnick last year when he came out with a bombshell election analysis of the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 congressional election. It found that Democrats taking “green” positions on climate change “won much more often” than those remaining silent.


At the time, I asked Krosnick about the implications of his research for the President, who even back then had 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.

The Hill piece has some interesting details on the thinking of the would-be Senate climate hawks, starting with Angus King who actually launched an ad attacking his opponent for climate denial:

In Maine, independent Senate candidate Angus King recently launched an ad featuring him telling the camera that Republican opponent “Charlie [Summers] … doubts climate change science, favors taxpayer subsidies for big oil, and thinks Washington isn’t broken.”

Summers said at one of the candidates’ debates, which was focused solely on energy and the environment, that he doesn’t believe that climate change is caused primarily by humans, and cited other factors — like volcanic eruptions — that he believes affect the environment. It’s a position that King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said offered a contrast between the two candidates, and one that she believes Maine voters — who live in a state with a strong green energy sector and leans Democratic — will consider in November.

I think when someone makes a statement that climate change is caused by volcanoes, I think you have to alert the public,” to what they believe, she said.

Notice how King ties the climate denial to taxpayer subsidies for big oil. That matches the thinking in the “Must-Read Guide For Engaging and Winning on Climate And Clean Energy.”


In the Nebraska race, Democrat Bob Kerrey attacked Republican Deb Fischer’s failure to accept the basic science behind manmade global warming in order “to question her ability to solve Nebraska’s problems”:

The state has, in recent months, been hit by severe droughts that have impacted much of the agricultural sector.

I do not think you can solve any problem unless you begin by saying there’s a problem,” he said during the debate.

… Nebraskans have historically been known for splitting the ticket to vote for more moderate lawmakers, so this is one issue where Kerrey believes he can create a useful contrast between himself and Fischer.

Kerrey spokesman Chris Triebsch added that Fischer’s position seems to be a part of a larger pattern on Fischer’s part to “bury her head” on facts.

“I think it speaks, in a larger context, to how she doesn’t look at the facts on a number of issues, and lets the facts just hang out there and not address them,” he said.

The attack is really a two-fer. It can help mobilize that large number of voters who care deeply about climate change and clean energy. At the same time, it can be part of an overall message that one’s opponent is far out of the mainstream:

Both Canney and Triebsch agreed that the focus on the climate change issue was a way to frame the Republican as extreme.

And that’s the effort Democrat Elizabeth Warren has launched in Massachusetts, albeit in a slightly more roundabout way. She’s tied Sen. Scott Brown’s re-election to Republican control of the Senate and argued that, if Republicans controlled the Senate, climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) would chair the Environment and Public Works Committee and oversee the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s a strong argument in a state as blue as Massachusetts, and if Warren can successfully argue that Brown’s win would ensure far-right Republicans would gain control of the Senate, she could topple Brown’s campaign.

And in a race as close as that in Massachusetts, climate change could be a niche issue that could drive voters to the polls in favor of one candidate or the other.

That would go double for another, far more important national race, between someone who understands climate science (but has been relatively silent on the issue) and someone who has Etch-A-Sketched away all his previous support for climate action and clean energy!

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