Democrats and independent voters overwhelmingly accept the scientific evidence that human activity is warming the earth’s temperature, while almost two out of three Republicans don’t.
Among likely voters, 78 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents believe humans are warming the earth, according to a Bloomberg National Poll. That finding is consistent with other polls that show undecided voters, and majorities in contested states such as Ohio and Virginia are in line with President Barack Obama and most Democratic candidates in wanting to address the issue.
“Taking a pro-climate stance is a political winner, especially for Democrats,” Edward Maibach, director for the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, said in an interview. “It’s not the most important issue” for most undecided voters, but “it’s somewhere in their lexicon of issues.”
Carbon-dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution have led to a warming of the earth’s temperature over the past 50 years, threatening to cause extreme weather, drought and coastal flooding, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
A drought affected two-thirds of the lower 48 U.S. states this month, one of the worst such dry spells on record, and temperatures there for the first eight months of the year were the warmest since records were first kept in 1895, according to government data.
Pollsters had already recorded a spurt in acceptance of global warming following the hot, dry weather in the U.S. this year, and the Bloomberg Poll found views fairly consistent across income levels, geography, education attainment and sex. There is one key division: political party. And that is reflected in the positions of each presidential candidate this year.
In a speech after he secured the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, President Barack Obama said, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
While Obama failed to enact legislation to cap carbon-dioxide emissions, that line was turned against him by Republican nominee Mitt Romney at his party’s convention this year.
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said. “My promise is to help you and your family.”
In response to questions from Scientific American, Romney said global warming is real “by my best assessment of the data” but “we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.” He criticized Obama for pushing the cap-and-trade measure and for using existing environmental laws to try to cut carbon emissions.
Those measures would shift manufacturing overseas, he said: “That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.”
Obama, who has faced criticism from environmental groups for not doing enough to cut emissions, said at the Democratic National Party convention that “climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future.”
Romney is in accord with most Republicans, not with most voters. Overall, 55 percent of likely voters polled by Bloomberg said warming is happening because of human activity. Thirty-six percent disagreed with that statement. Among Republicans only 26 percent agreed, while 64 percent disagreed.
The Bloomberg telephone survey of 789 likely voters was conducted Sept. 21-24 by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
“One problem for Republicans is that they are painting themselves into a climate-change corner,” Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a self-described progressive group with ties to the Democratic Party, said in an interview. “The race for the White House is going to be won in the middle, and Romney is establishing a wedge between himself and independent voters” on this issue, he said.
In recent weeks, Maibach and researchers from Yale University polled the 7 percent of voters who said they were undecided and asked them about climate and energy attitudes and policies. Those voters’ views were similar to those of Obama voters, with more than 60 percent saying it was one of the top issues for them.
“These undecided voters look like Obama voters” when it comes to climate change, Maibach said.
Conservative groups say the skepticism among Republican voters is a response to measures liberals and activists say are necessary to deal with the threat, including government regulation and subsidies.
“If you don’t agree there is a limited government solution, an effective coping mechanism is to deny the problem,” Alex Bozmoski, director of the Energy & Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University, said in an interview. A veteran of Republican campaigns, Bozmoski said that his group is pushing for cuts in all energy subsidies and for some taxes to shift from income and capital to be placed on the carbon dioxide emissions.
“Conservatives care about posterity,” Bozmoski said. “There is a substantial conservative base of support for prudent action” that doesn’t include “big-government action,” he said.
And there is already one bit of comity on this issue. The National Audubon Society and Republican group ConservAmerica last week launched a campaign aimed at bridging the nation’s “bitter partisan divides over energy and the environment.”
“This is not just a fight to save the planet; this is a fight to save the neighborhoods where we live and the open space and waterways where we work and play,” David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society said in a statement.