Two new polls – a statewide survey by a nonpartisan Texas organization and a national survey by Republican pollsters – yield new evidence that Republicans may not be as opposed to climate action as most of their leading politicians.
It has become a commonplace assumption over the last seven or eight years – roughly since 2008, when Republican John McCain ran for president urging cuts in climate-disrupting pollution – that proposals for climate action were nonstarters in his party after his loss to Barack Obama.
That has decidedly been the case for many Republican officeholders in Austin and other state capitals, not to mention Washington. But various polls have been producing signs lately that the Republican citizenry, as a whole, is more open to actions to curb global warming.
That appears to be the case in Texas, according to the 2015 edition of the Texas Lyceum Poll, conducted Sept. 8-21. The Texas Lyceum describes itself as “the state’s premier nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group.”
On one hand, 53 percent of Texas Republicans (versus 28 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats) told the Lyceum pollsters that they don’t worry “at all” about climate change. (Overall, there was an even split on the “worry” question – 50 percent of all respondents said they worry about climate change “only a little” or “not at all,” and 49 percent said “a fair amount” or “a great deal.”)
At the same time, however, 45 percent of Republicans in the survey said they would support federal regulations to attack global warming – an idea overwhelmingly opposed by the state’s congressional delegation (and most of the rest of the Republican members of Congress).
The specific wording of the question sought support or opposition to new federal legislation “that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming.” Forty-eight percent of Republicans were opposed, while a solid majority of all Texans – 67 percent – were in favor.
The Texas Lyceum pollsters said they found it “rather surprising” that nearly as many Republicans in the state (45 percent) favor such a proposal as oppose it (48 percent).
Even more surprising to some who haven’t been following recent polls charting Republicans’ views on climate may be the results of a new national survey, commissioned by a North Carolina businessman, Jay Faison, and conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters.
Faison, the New York Times reported, “calls himself a conservative Republican and has announced that he intends to spend $10 million on efforts to lobby Republicans to embrace the issue of climate change. He has spent $165 million to start a nonprofit foundation, ClearPath, aimed at promoting climate change and clean energy policies that could appeal to conservatives.”
Contrary to any assumptions based on earlier polling that most Republicans – and certainly most conservative Republicans – reject mainstream climate science, the ClearPath poll found 56 percent of all Republicans and 54 percent of conservative-identifying Republicans say they agree that the climate is indeed changing and, to some degree, due to human activity.
The vast majority of climate scientists have concluded that the average global temperature increase driving broader climate change in recent decades is mainly attributable to human activity. The ClearPath poll found that 21 percent of all Republicans and 19 percent of conservative Republicans said humans are contributing “a lot” to the climate trend, with 35 percent of all Republicans and 35 percent of conservative Republicans saying humans are “probably contributing a little.”
The pollsters observed in a report posted online that “outright dismissal of climate change is very limited, even among conservative Republicans. However, most Republicans hesitate to say climate change has ‘a lot’ to do with human activity.”
(Reflecting what can safely be called an attitude of “outright dismissal,” businessman Donald Trump, leading in most polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, recently told CNN, “I don’t believe in climate change.” Along those same lines and even more bluntly, Trump had declared on Twitter last year that global warming is “bullshit.”)
The ClearPath survey also found that “accelerating the development and use of clean energy” – a proposal central to efforts climate-action proponents’ campaign to reduce fossil-fuel use that produces greenhouse gases – is strongly favored by Republicans.
Seventy-two percent of all Republicans and 68 percent of conservative Republicans said they supported boosting clean energy, compared to 84 percent of all survey respondents.
Bill Dawson is the founder and editor of Texas Climate News.