Friday, April 12, 2013

When Climate Polls Collide with Political Conventional Wisdom

A new Gallup poll shows worry about global warming and acceptance of the climate science consensus is up sharply in the last two years. The spike isn't being fueled by Democrats - it's being fueled in large part Republicans.

But the political conventional wisdom in Washington presents a very real obstacle to this reality breaking through. The same pundits who bemoan partisan polarization in one breath perpetuate it the next - all Democrats hate coal, and all Republicans hate clean air! The nuance of rank-and-file Republicans disagreeing with Republican party leadership stands little chance of breaking through these stereotypes.

Let's dig into the poll numbers. You could make the case that Republicans are just cooling off from the heated fight over clean energy & climate legislation that had party leaders, polluters, and conservative media telling them that they had to oppose climate action to support the team.

But we're just coming off an election year in which Republican candidates went after climate science and clean energy with renewed fury, yet rank-and-file Republican acceptance of the climate science consensus went up anyway. What's really going on here?

Another poll, this one from the Yale Forum on Climate Communication, fills in some of those gaps. It finds rank-and-file Republicans frustrated with their party leadership on climate change & clean energy:
  • A majority of respondents (52%) believe climate change is happening, while 26 percent believe it is not, and 22 percent say they “don’t know.”
  • By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents say America should take action to reduce our fossil fuel use.
  • Only one third of respondents agree with the Republican Party’s position on climate change, while about half agree with the party’s position on how to meet America’s energy needs.
  • A large majority of respondents say their elected representatives are unresponsive to their views about climate change.
There are organizations like ConserAmerica and former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis' Energy and Enterprise Initiative trying to break through. But when the Koch brothers and other billionaire polluters are funding such massive operations to keep GOP leadership polluter-aligned, what chance do true conservative reformers have of breaking through?
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