Surveys show climate change becoming a bipartisan concern

By Sehoy Thrower

Recently, all but one Republican senator acknowledged that climate change is real and not a hoax. Growing concern for climate change in Congress is mirrored in the general public. Both Democrats and Republicans are more concerned about climate change, recent surveys show.

The New York Times reports:

An overwhelming majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.

Specifically, 51 percent of Republicans support government action on climate change. And though climate change is not currently cited as a top priority for Americans, the Times/Stanford poll finds that two-thirds of Americans, including 48 percent of Republicans, are more likely to cast their votes for candidates who support climate change action. Candidates who dismiss scientific literature linking a human cause to climate change face the same odds of being voted against.

The Times goes on to report:

In a 2011 Stanford University poll, 72 percent of people thought climate change was caused at least in part by human activities. That grew to 81 percent in the latest poll. By party, 88 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans said that climate change was caused at least in part by human activities.

The Times/Stanford poll follows on the heels of research last year finding that groups of conservative Americans are concerned about climate change. A study from the Yale Project of Climate Change Communication found notable differences between opinions of different groups of Republicans, noting that 62% of moderate Republicans believe that climate change is happening.

Another survey, this one released from the Pew Research Center last November, found that two-thirds of the public favored stricter emissions limits on power plants, with Republicans evenly divided at 47 percent:

Pew poll on carbon limits

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last June revealed that there is a generational gap within the Republican Party. Among respondents who leaned toward Republican in the 18-49 age group, 61 percent said the government should limit greenhouse gases, even if it raised energy bills $20 a month. Among Republicans 65 and older, only 41 percent agreed with that statement.

While another report from the Pew Research Center, this one released last month, shows a disparity between public opinion and the opinions of scientists in relation to climate change, the gap is slowly but surely closing. Peer-reviewed climate science is becoming increasingly accepted as fact in both parties.

Figuring out the nuts and bolts of viable bipartisan legislation seems daunting to most Americans. The Times/Stanford poll shows that, while 48 percent of Republicans say they are more likely to vote for candidates working to solve climate change, 47 percent of Republicans think that policies targeting greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to the economy.

The good news here, of course, is that as more and more Republicans hear about CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal and the REMI study backing its economic benefits, the easier it becomes to generate support for such legislation on Capitol Hill. Eventually, majorities of Republicans will come around to the same conclusions as notable conservatives such as George Shultz, Hank Paulson, and Bob Inglis, who support the free-market carbon pricing mechanism CCL advocates because it is bipartisan, effectively curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulates  the economy.

As they look at these shifting polls, congressional Republicans will find they have less to fear from the electorate by acting on climate change than they have to fear by ignoring it.

That bodes well for CCL’s lobbying efforts in the months ahead.

Sehoy Thrower is an intern in CCL’s Atlanta office.

Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.