It’s way too early to say with any certainty – plenty can happen between now and November 2016 – but some recent polls suggest that candidates favoring action against climate change may find favor with a lot of voters next year.
Survey results released in April by the Washington Post and ABC News revealed, for instance, that 59 percent of respondents want the next president to be “someone who favors action to address climate change.”
Thirty-one percent in the Post-ABC poll said they want a president who opposes such action.
The same month, findings of a poll by Stanford University and Resources for the Future (RFF), a corporate-funded think tank in Washington, were released, indicating that 61 percent favor a key climate-action proposal — requiring companies to pay a so-called “carbon tax” keyed to their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Support for such a tax rose to 67 percent in the Stanford-RFF poll if the proceeds are provided to all citizens equally by reducing the income taxes they pay. This rebate idea has been promoted by a number of climate-action advocates.
The Post-ABC results, at least, suggest that a presidential candidate such as Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Lindsey Graham might benefit from the electorate’s support for climate action.
Clinton has positioned herself as a strong supporter of President Barack Obama’s legacy of government action against climate change, which has unremittingly drawn Republican opposition in Congress and in state capitals including Austin.
Graham, for his part, put considerable distance between himself and other Republican candidates on climate last Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union program:
[He] said he believes the climate is changing as a result of emissions caused by man, and that he’d support “business-friendly” restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.
He said other Republican presidential contenders should be asked, “What is the environmental policy of the Republican Party?”
“When I ask that question, I get a blank stare,” he said.
One approach to the emission-reduction question that might be embraced as “business-friendly” – by natural gas producers, at least – would involve increasing the substitution of that fuel for coal in electricity production.
Speaking in April, Jeb Bush, assumed to be seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said he was “concerned” about climate change and asserted that the U.S. “can continue to reduce carbon emissions by taking advantage of the abundance of natural gas.” Bush later drew criticism from climate-action advocates, however, for saying it’s “arrogant” to say “the science is decided” on human causation of climate change and then meeting with coal industry officials at a “closed door retreat.”
(When burned, natural gas emits less carbon dioxide, the principal human-produced greenhouse gas, than coal and oil. Critics of natural gas, however, argue that emissions of unburned methane, a potent greenhouse gas, may offset that climate advantage when they occur during production and distribution of natural gas.)
A Gallup poll released in April suggested that Graham or Bush won’t earn much if any advantage in their own party’s primary campaign for stating their concern about human-caused global warming and proposing government action to limit it:
While notable majorities of all other political party/ideology groups say the effects of global warming will happen within their lifetime, fewer than four in 10 conservative Republicans (37 percent) agree, a sign of that political identity’s strident skepticism on this issue.
Conservative Republicans not only decisively reject the notion that the effects of global warming will happen in this lifetime — a position in sharp contrast to all other political identities — but another 40 percent say global warming will never happen. This is significantly higher than the percentages of moderate/liberal Republicans (16 percent), non-leaning independents (14 percent), conservative/moderate Democrats (5 percent) and liberal Democrats (3 percent) who say the same.
The Gallup results suggest a hardline stance against climate action, coupled with a strongly skeptical or even denying attitude toward climate science, might help a Republican candidate with that party’s conservative base during the primary campaign but simultaneously make him or her a target for a climate-action Democrat in the general election.
Perhaps adding a bit of credence to that possibility, the Post-ABC poll detected an enthusiasm gap between climate-action proponents and opponents.
Sixty-eight percent of pro-action respondents said it was extremely or very important to have a president favoring climate action. But only 39 percent of anti-action respondents said it was extremely or very important to them to have a president who shared their opposition.
Climate politics may well not make much difference in the ultimate outcome of the presidential contest. Climate concerns typically rank very low among voters’ priorities in opinion surveys.
In the Stanford-RFF poll, for example, “environment/global warming” was mentioned by two percent of respondents as the “most important problem facing this country today”. Two differently worded combinations of economic issues each ranked at the top in the survey, each grouping named by 12 percent as the biggest problem.
If climate should emerge as an issue, whether in primaries or the general election, results of the Stanford-RFF poll hold evidence that neither warnings by climate-action candidates about extreme weather events nor efforts by skeptic or denier candidates to cast doubt on climate science will be effective – in the general election, at least.
The ClimateWire news service reported that the poll “found that efforts by environmental organizations to increase urgency around climate change by pointing to extreme weather [aren’t] working, and neither are efforts to erode people’s belief in global warming by questioning the science.”
“There is really no evidence here at all that the disinformation campaign [by climate-action opponents] has successfully, dramatically reduced confidence in environmental scientists,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor who oversaw the poll. He points to consistent levels of trust in climate scientists since 2006, when the survey first asked the question. In the latest poll, 71 percent of respondents say they trust scientists at least moderately. Nine years ago, the number was 72 percent.
Texas is one of the places where Republican politicians have consistently questioned the credibility of climate science – including the conclusions of researchers at the state’s own top universities. Climate-action advocates have cited extreme weather in the state, especially Texas’ record-setting drought and heat wave of 2011 and this year’s devastating floods, to try to boost concerns about climate change bringing more of the same in the future.