Americans Want Elected Leaders Who Act on Climate Change - Pacific Standard

Americans Want Elected Leaders Who Act on Climate Change

Members of Congress who oppose climate action are out of touch with most American voters. But they are in touch with the noisy members of the misinformed Tea Party clan.
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Obama attends a 2010 briefing on the BP oil spill in Venice, Louisiana. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Obama attends a 2010 briefing on the BP oil spill in Venice, Louisiana. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Among Congress's litany of dysfunctions is its refusal to act on climate change, which has forced President Obama to try to tackle the problem through a hodgepodge of underfunded executive orders.

But new polling offers a hopeful reminder that Congress' decision in this matter is a deeply unpopular one among voters.

So why the disconnect?

Climate science doesn't gel with the fossil fuel-friendly worldview that so many conservative politicians sign on to support in exchange for campaign contributions from polluters. It's also a problem of the disproportionate influence of the Republican Party's most conservative elements—noisy Tea Party types who have been convinced that climate change is a scam.

"We may soon be seeing a redoubled effort by climate organizations to mobilize voters to take a stand in defense of the climate."

"They say, 'Hey, I’m not a scientist,'" Obama said of Republican climate change-deniers last week—his latest salvo in an emerging Democratic Party strategy that's using climate change as a political wedge against Republican candidates. "Which really translates into, 'I accept that man-made climate change is real, but if I say so out loud, I will be run out of town by a bunch of fringe elements that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m going to just pretend like, I don’t know, I can’t read.'"

The polling results, published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, highlighted just how disconnected these fringe elements are from Democrats and from their fellow Republican voters.

The survey of about 1,000 voters found that 45 percent would be more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming, compared with 17 percent who would be less likely.

Conversely, 44 percent would be less likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes such action, compared with 15 percent who would be more likely. The only voters that would be more likely to vote for such a candidate were conservative Republicans.

politics-global-warming

(Chart: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication)

Conservative Republicans' inclination to vote in favor of warming the globe doesn't necessarily mean that they are all masochistic misanthropes. Many of them seem to truly buy into the fossil fuel-funded and conservative cable news-broadcasted claims that climate change is not a problem. While two-thirds of voters "think global warming is happening" (including 93 percent of liberal Democrats), just 28 percent of polled conservative Republicans said they think that's the case.

Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication and a collaborator on the surveying project, points out that the most interesting finding in the new report has less to do with voting—and more to do with direct action. A quarter of those polled would be willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action on global warming—if somebody they knew and trusted asked them.

"This suggests to me that we may soon be seeing a redoubled effort by climate organizations to mobilize voters to take a stand in defense of the climate," Maibach says.

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