Climate Change Action Emerges As Winning Wedge Issue In 2016
by JOE ROMM –
A new public opinion survey finds that “Americans across political lines, except conservative Republicans, would support a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming.”
The survey of 1,004 registered voters by the Climate Change Communication programs at Yale and George Mason University yielded a number of important findings consistent with earlier polling this year by Gallup.
The new survey found a growing number of registered voters understand global warming is happening: “Three in four (73%, up 7 points since Spring 2014) now think it is happening. Large majorities of Democrats — liberal (95%) and moderate/conservative (80%) — think it is happening, as do three in four Independents (74%, up 15 points since Spring 2014) and the majority of liberal/moderate Republicans (71%, up 10 points).”
The researchers point out “only 47% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening.” But then they immediately note: “Importantly, however, there has been a large increase in the number of conservative Republicans who think global warming is happening. In fact, conservative Republicans have experienced the largest shift of any group—an increase of 19 percentage points over the past two years.”
Part of the reason for this growing public awareness is Pope Francis, who released his encyclical on the environment last year. Back in November, the same researchers found that “17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue.” The researches also believe that public awareness has likely been boosted by the Paris climate accord, the record-smashing winter, and media coverage of climate change.
Climate change and the 2016 presidential election
The researchers found that the number of Americans who are “more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming,” exceeds the number who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of 3-to-1 (43 percent to 14 percent).
In particular, climate change has emerged as a winning “wedge issue” in the 2016 race because of the large gap in thinking between conservative Republicans and potential swing voters (like independents and liberal Republicans). For those who aren’t political junkies, “A wedge issue is a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group” — or, in this case, Republicans.
Here are some key data from the report:
It’s worth noting that we have been reporting since the summer of 2011 that climate change is a wedge issue. Back then, public opinion research by Stanford professor Jon Krosnick found found that “Political candidates get more votes by taking a ‘green’ position on climate change — acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action.”
The new research from Yale and George Mason also finds that the number of Americans who are “less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly opposes taking action to reduce global warming,” exceeds the number who would be more likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of 4-to-1 (45 percent vs. 11 percent).
Unfortunately for the GOP, while conservative Republicans generally indicate they’re more likely to vote for this kind of climate-science-denying candidate (+10 percentage points), “Democrats, Independents and liberal/moderate Republicans are much less likely to vote” for such a candidate by -63, -31, and -24 percentage points respectively.
So the right-wing denial machine has put the GOP in a box. Candidates running for the Republican nomination may feel there is a benefit to embracing climate denial if they want to “win the conservative vote” — but such candidates will suffer with every other voter group, particularly if they are running against someone who embraces climate action.
That all assumes, of course, that progressive candidates choose to make this issue one of their priorities in their messaging and advertising in the coming campaign. After all, it is unlikely conservatives will be the ones to bring the issue up, and it appears equally unlikely the media is going to bring the issue up in any serious fashion.
It also assumes that the progressive candidate has a winning message on climate change, which hasn’t always been the case. But, as we reported two weeks ago, science and public opinion research have identified winning climate messages. These include “The overwhelming majority of climate scientists — over 97 percent — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change” and “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged by carbon pollution.”