Climate: Sleeper Issue of 2012?

October 3, 2012

I’ll say one thing for the media, they are consistent. Once they have internalized a notion, they manage to stick with it, no matter how many facts pile up that say the opposite.

In the case of climate, the prevailing media notion is that talking about climate is somehow a negative for political candidates.  That math be true in some isolated areas, and concerns about not upsetting  key regions like eastern Ohio, and central Pennsylvania may explain President Obama’s relative silence on the issue – the evidence keeps mounting that among the most important demographic groups – climate is an issue that will work in favor of those who offer solutions.


.. pollsters and strategists are increasingly saying that Democrats—and even perhaps some Republicans—could be using the climate issue to their political advantage, especially after a summer of drought, wildfires, and record heat. Ever since the collapse of cap and trade, it’s been “strong conventional wisdom, even within major environmental organizations, that it can hurt us to talk about climate change,” explains climate strategist Betsy Taylor, whose consulting firm Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions just released a new report on the subject. “And I think that was a mistake.”

The conventional wisdom that activists like Taylor want to upset emerged following the 2008 economic collapse—when many climate advocates were painted as wannabe energy taxers, and a sharp contrast was drawn between helping the economy and helping the climate. Then came “Climategate,” apseudo-scandal which has since been debunked, but which planted the idea that climate scientists had made up results to scare the public, and weakened Americans’ concern about global warming Upshot: In the 2010 congressional elections, a number of Democrats who’d voted for cap-and-trade were picked off by Republican challengers. The most prominent victim: Virginia’s Rick Boucher, a 14-term Congressional vet who lost to a Tea Party opponent who’dpilloried his pro-cap-and-trade vote. Moderate Republicans known for taking climate change seriously, like former South Carolina Rep. Bob Ingliss, were also sent packing.

Recent polling data make clear, however, that extreme weather is leaving Americans increasingly worried about climate change. A mid July survey from the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, found that 70 percent of the public thought climate change was happening, an increase from 65 percent in March. What’s more, a series of public opinion reports and analyses—some based on data collected prior to the record heat waves of the summer, which suggests the public is even more alarmed now than when those surveys reached them—have indicated that global warming is a potential political winner, rather than an electoral albatross.

The implication, explains Edward Maibach of the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, is “so different from what seems to be the wisdom of politicos, which is that this is a third rail of politics and you don’t touch it.”

The reason, he explains, is that “Independents respond more like Democrats than like Republicans” on the issue—giving climate advocates a potentially larger base of support. For example: 72 percent of Democrats in the study, as well as 66 percent of Independents, agreed that global warming would harm “future generations” either a moderate amount or a great deal.

But perhaps most striking is Taylor’s recently released report, which draws on a survey designed by Harstad Strategic Research pollster Andrew Maxfield, who previously did polling for President Obama’s 2008 campaign. In a survey of 1,204 likely voters in May of 2012, Maxfield found that a “clean energy” candidate fared better than an “all-of-the-above” candidate who supported a variety of energy choices—coal, drilling, and also clean energy.

I’ll be running these graphs and others by some folks, and learning more about the policy implications,  when I visit Washington DC tomorrow.

More at ClimateDesk.


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