Presidential Candidates Dodge Global Warming
An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.
In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of climate change.
Among Republicans, 48 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change, a result that Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and an author of the survey, called “the most powerful finding” in the poll. Many Republican candidates either question the science of climate change or do not publicly address the issue.
Nonetheless, 47 percent of Republicans still said they believe that policies designed to curb global warming will hurt the economy. Although the poll found that climate change was not a top issue in determining a person’s vote, a candidate’s position on climate change influences how a person will vote. For example, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.
The results come as climate change is emerging as a source of debate in the coming presidential campaign.
In 2012, all the Republican presidential candidates but one – Jon M. Huntsman Jr. – questioned or denied the science of human-caused global warming, and opposed policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But over the past year, President Obama has proposed a series of Environmental Protection Agency regulations intended to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, which Republicans in Congress have attacked as a “war on coal.”
But those positions appear to be out of step with the majority of the electorate. The poll found that 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future.
But substantial differences remain between the two parties on the issue. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to say that the issue of global warming is important to them. Among Democrats, 63 percent said the issue was very or extremely important to them personally. In contrast, 40 percent of independents and only 18 percent of Republicans said the same.
And while the poll found that 77 percent of Americans say that the federal government should be doing a substantial amount to combat climate change, the support was greatest among Democrats and independents. Ninety percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 48 percent of Republicans said the government should be fighting climate change.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Jan. 7-22 with 1,006 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Over all, the number of Americans who believe that climate change is caused by human activity is growing. In a 2011 Stanford University poll, 72 percent of people thought climate change was caused at least in part by human activities. That grew to 81 percent in the latest poll. By party, 88 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans said that climate change was caused at least in part by human activities.
A majority of Americans – 71 percent — expect that they will be personally hurt by climate change, although to different degrees.
“Some people think they’ll be really devastated; some people think they’ll be inconvenienced,” Mr. Krosnick said.
Aliza Strauss, a Republican homemaker in Teaneck, N.J., said in a follow-up interview that climate change had affected her personally and she was concerned about the impact of climate change in coming years. “A tree fell on my house duringHurricane Sandy and in the future it might be worse,” she said. “The stronger storms and the flooding will erode the coastline, and that is a big concern for me.”
Jason Becker, a self-identified independent and stay-at-home father in Ocoee, Fla., said that although climate change was not his top concern, a candidate who questioned global warming would seem out of touch.
But, he said of climate change, “If someone feels it’s a hoax they are denying the evidence out there. Many arguments can be made on both sides of the fence. But to just ignore it completely indicates a close-minded individual, and I don’t want a close-minded individual in a seat of political power.”
Political analysts say the problem for many Republicans is how to carve out a position on climate change that does not turn off voters like Mr. Becker, but that also does not alienate powerful conservative campaign donors. In particular, advocacy groups funded by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have vowed to ensure that Republican candidates who advocate for climate change action will lose in primary elections.
As a result, many Republicans have begun responding to questions about climate change by saying, “I’m not a scientist,” or some variant, as a way to avoid taking a definite position.
The poll found that vague position might well help Republican candidates in primary contests, particularly among conservative voters. The poll found that 27 percent of Americans were more likely to vote for a candidate who took that position, and 44 percent less likely. But among those who support the Tea Party, 49 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who said “I’m not a scientist,” or a variant.
“It recruits more Tea Partyers than it repels,” Mr. Krosnick said.
A pledge to fight climate change appears to have less attraction for older voters. The poll found that older Americans are slightly less inclined to support a candidate who calls for action to reduce global warming and similarly less negative toward a candidate who rejects the premise of global warming.
“Global warming hasn’t much importance to me,” said William Werner, 73, a retired sales manager in San Antonio. “It is not man-made in my opinion because there have been cycles forever and we can’t do much about that.”
He added, “If you’re speaking about voting for someone in this country who says they can take actions that will affect global warming, I don’t believe it, because we are just not that big a polluter compared to other countries.”