Voters are ready to discuss climate change, but are the candidates talking?

1505510011 300x198 Voters are ready to discuss climate change, but are the candidates talking?You’d be forgiven for believing that American voters don’t care about climate change. After all, studies have suggested that reducing carbon emissions ranks at the bottom of the public’s priorities: who has time to deal with a future catastrophe when the Pentagon needs planes, ASAP?

Politicians have taken this perceived voter apathy to heart. Candidate Obama’s promises to help the planet heal have been superseded by President Obama’s energy strategy, best described as “drill everywhere.” For his part, Mitt Romney has been as craven and back and forthi on climate change as he’s been on every other issue. Democrats believe that ignoring climate change won’t hurt them at the booth. Republicans believe that ignoring climate change –– indeed, refuting its existence –– will gain them votes (or, even better, donations from the Koch brothers).

As it turns out, though, both parties are wrong: this election season, promising to combat climate change is far more likely to boost a candidate’s chances than harm them. That’s the surprising conclusion of a new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) and George Mason University, which found that a solid majority (55%) of voters say they’ll consider a candidate’s position on global warming when they pull the lever this November.

And before you protest that this 55% includes deniers who are voting for Romney and Paul Ryan because they don’t endorse climate action, know this: according to the study, “climate change issue voters” who think that global warming is happening outnumber deniers 10 to 1. In other words, the people who care about a politician’s stance on climate change are the same ones who acknowledge climate change’s veracity.

Here’s the breakdown:

Climate Change Chart 1 Voters are ready to discuss climate change, but are the candidates talking?

Take note, Obamney: Independents resemble Democrats in their views on climate change, as a substantial majority (58%) consider global warming a vital election issue, and an even more overwhelming proportion (68%) think that addressing warming should be an important priority for elected officials. Clearly, there are more undecided voters to be gained than lost by including climate change in your platform. And in case you were wondering, a similar pattern holds in swing states.

(Also, it’s remarkable, and encouraging, that over half of Republicans believe that global warming should be at least a medium priority. You’d never guess it from listening to politicians grovel for fossil fuel campaign contributions, though.)

So: there’s no question that voters care a lot about climate change. But they’re also passionate about the economy, of course, probably more than they are about any other issue.. And they would never support any action on climate change that even slightly impinged economic recovery… would they?

Well, take a look:

Climate Change Chart 2 Voters are ready to discuss climate change, but are the candidates talking?

Among issue voters –– who represent, again, well over half of total voters –– a vast majority (88%) favor doing something about climate change even if it affects the economy. That is a stunning refutation of conventional wisdom, which holds that Americans will never accep legislation –– for example, cap-and-trade –– that threatens to impose costs on business.

Subsequent charts, which you can find in the report, indicate that the majority of Democrat, Independent, and even Republican voters support the following measures: regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their external costs; and implementing a “revenue-neutral tax shift that increases taxes on fossil fuels and reduces the federal income tax by an equal amount.” Pundits have long held that all of these solutions are political poison; yet according to YPCCC’s study, they’re not only fair game, they’re extremely popular.

What’s more, the survey was conducted in March –– before the hottest month in recorded history, before the drought that has devastated crop yields across the country, and before climatologist James Hansen linked this season’s terrible wildfires to global warming. A similar survey conducted today would surely yield an even stronger and more bipartisan call for emissions reductions.

But will the candidates respond?

Maybe Mitt Romney, who’s never met a mild political breeze that couldn’t blow him over, would have half-heartedly promised to do something about climate change in the face of public opinion. But his alliance with Paul Ryan, who wrote in a 2009 op-ed that scientists have used “statistical tricks” to “intentionally mislead the public,” precludes any vows to act from the Republican ticket. And of course there’s the stubborn matter of those donations from dirty energy industries, noxious carrots guaranteed to prevent Romney from being honest about the state of our climate.

No wonder nobody –– not even members of his own party –– trusts Mitt to properly represent the facts:

Climate Change Chart 3 Voters are ready to discuss climate change, but are the candidates talking?

As for Obama, climate change has been almost entirely absent from his campaign –– and from his presidency, for that matter. His near-silence on global warming, it now seems, has not only been environmentally negligent, but also a political misstep: the YPCCC study suggests that there are plenty of climate-concerned Independent votes waiting to be snatched up by some shrewd messaging and strong policy promises.

Addressing global warming more forcefully wouldn’t cost Obama any votes, either, as the data suggest that virtually no issue voters deny global warming. Contrary to all expectations, aggressive action on climate change is a political winner in 2012, and the Incumbent-in-Chief would be wise to campaign accordingly.

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  • Pacificweather

    The first rule of campaigning is, “Say nothing”. Mitt Romney cannot win so Obama must ensure he does not lose.

  • HairyScot

    what no naysayers on climate change jumping up to support the Ryan opinion that it is all a “statistical trick by scientists to mislead the public”?

  • srrc

    The flaw in this article is that it assumes that the two main parties do what the voters want them to do, when actually they do what big business wants them to do. For example, the majority of the US population would like a health-care system more similar to other western nations (single payer, public option, etc); this would reduce costs to individuals and the state massively, and see the US deficit disappear in a few years, but insurance and pharmaceutical companies would lose out, so it’s not followed. The majority of people also did not support the tax cuts given to the super rich by Bush and Obama.

    Even if the majority of people in the US wanted serious action to tackle climate change, big business would ensure that it would not happen.

  • Bob_T

    You are so right and the USA is such a mess, not that the UK is much better. Thank goodness the Germans and Danes etc are actually doing something to show what can be achieved to reduce CO2.

  • Clyde Davies

    Well, as Louis McNeice wrote, ‘The glass is falling hour by hour, The glass will fall for ever; But if you break the bloody glass, you won’t hold up the weather.’
    Deniers can claim that the scientists are wrong or even deceitful, but if I were a climate scientist I’d want to err on the side of caution. More likely that they aren’t in error at all and their conclusions are being vindicated even as we speak.

  • HairyScot

    i think the comment I made was ironic in nature.

  • Clyde Davies

    I know, I wasn’t taking issue with your comment. I was expecting the usual bunch of illiterates and and yahoos to jump in as well. Surprised they haven’t yet.

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