Americans are more than twice as likely to vote for political candidates who support climate change action, according to a new study.
It’s well documented that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support climate action, but the new research identifies a clear split between moderate/liberal Republicans and their more conservative counterparts over the science of climate change and the need to do something about it.
The report, by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, says:
“In many respects, liberal/moderate Republicans are relatively similar to moderate/conservative Democrats on the issue of global warming, potentially forming a moderate, middle-ground public on the issue.”
The researchers asked 860 registered voters across the political spectrum questions about how they view climate change and what they believe should be done to tackle it. Their results show a consistent split between the views of conservative Republicans and everyone else.
66 per cent of registered US voters think climate change is happening. That breaks down into 88 per cent of Democrats and 59 per cent of independents. 61 per cent of Republicans say they think climate change is happening, but only 28 per cent of conservative Republicans agree.
Just over half of registered voters say they believe climate change is caused by humans. 51 per cent of liberal or moderate Republicans agree with this, compared to just 22 per cent of conservative Republicans.
Asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a congressional or presidential candidate who strongly supports action to tackle climate change, 45 per cent said they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate compared to 17 per cent who said it would make them less likely to vote for them.
That means voters across the spectrum say a strong stance on climate action would make them more than twice as likely to vote for a candidate.
Only conservative Republicans would on balance be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports strong climate policies, as the table below shows.
When asked about specific climate and energy policies, more of those polled were supportive. 66 per cent of Americans support laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Democrats are most likely to support such policies, but support is pretty high across all voters, the poll finds – 63 per cent of liberal and moderate Republicans , and 42 per cent of conservative Republicans still support these measures.
Why is support for specific policies greater than potential support for candidates promising tough action on climate change?
One potential answer may lie in polls that rank climate change against other issues. When asked to consider the environment alongside concerns such as the state of the economy, people are more worried about whether they’ll be able to feed their family and keep their job. So when people are debating the merits of particular political candidates, they may be weighing a strong stance on climate change against other priorities.
Climate change as a political issue
The report’s findings may be encouraging for those who support robust action on climate change. They appear to show that climate change issues are not as polarising along political lines as they might seem.
As the report says:
“Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of American public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.”
In the US, there are signs that climate is rising up the agenda of political campaigners. Donor Tom Steyer has put serious money into making climate change an election issue, banking on the premise that enough people care about the climate to vote accordingly.
Yet Steyer, other campaigners and politicians face a tough obstacle to climate action: conservative Republican states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Idaho and Oklahoma. In such states, it seems far more likely that politicians skeptical of climate science and action to tackle global warming will be elected, despite the wider spread of opinion across the country.
While there appears to be a mainstream of public opinion that’s supportive of climate action in the US, conservative Republicans are an influential opposing force.
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