Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Polling Data: Climate Change and the US Midterm Elections

According to US polls, Americans acknowledge that climate change is real, however, this does not mean that it is an issue that will sway electoral outcomes. While a solid majority of Americans want to the US to do more to manage climate change, it is not perceived as either one of the top threats facing the country or a priority issue. Consequently it is unlikely to figure prominently as an election issue in the forthcoming midterms.

In Pew Research’s 2014 Political Typology survey,  61 percent of Americans said there is solid evidence that Earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades. However, 18 percent said the warming mostly because of natural environmental patterns.

A 2013 survey by Stanford University showed that a majority of citizens in every state—including energy-producing ones—agreed that the US should do more to address climate change and limit greenhouse gases from businesses and power plants.

Even though Americans want to see more action on climate change, several studies show they do not perceive it to be a priority issue. An August 2014 poll asked Americans to prioritize global threats, the results show that climate change ranked very low. The survey stated that Americans are far more concerned about the militant group ISIS (67%), Iran’s nuclear program (59%) North Korea’s nuclear program (57%) Russia (53%) and infectious disease (52%). Climate change was considered a global threat by less than half of Americans (48%).

According to an international poll in 2013, the US is among the countries whose people are least concerned about climate change. In a January 2014 poll, global warming was at the bottom of American priorities for President Obama and Congress with only slightly more than one quarter of Americans (28%) saying it was a top priority.

The January poll suggests a decline in American's prioritization of climate change. A November 2013 poll asking Americans about their long range foreign policy goals ranked climate change well behind guarding against terrorism (83%) and jobs (83%). Only 37 percent of Americans identified climate change as a priority.

The difference between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans remains a stark study of contrasts. As revealed in a Pew Poll, about nine-in-ten Solid Liberals (91%) said the Earth is getting warmer, but just two-in-ten conservatives (21%) agreed. A total of 75 percent of conservatives thought we have gone too far to protect the environment while only only 2 percent of liberals shared that view. 

A September, CBS News/New York Times Poll found that 63 percent of Democrats think climate change should be given top priority while only 40 percent of Republicans felt the same way. Conversely 51 percent of Republicans thought that economic growth should be given top priority while only 34 percent of Democrats shared that view.   

When asked if global warming is having an impact now, 61 percent of Democrats said yes while 26 percent of Republicans agreed. Only 24 percent of Republicans think global warming will pose a serious threat to their way of life in their lifetimes, while 56 percent of Democrats said that it would.

The Pew Research Center/USA Today poll indicated that a total of 68 percent of Democrats think climate change is a "major threat," while only 24 percent of Republicans share that view.  

A similar divide also exists between old and young. According a recent poll by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), nearly 80 percent of voters 35 and under nationally said they are more likely to vote for someone who supports climate action. However, young people tend not to vote in midterm elections. Democrats are also less likely to turn out to vote in the midterm elections than their Republican counterparts.

Even though people may support action on climate change it does not always influence their voting decisions. This has created a situation where many politicians can afford to hold ideologically motivated climate positions which are at odds with their constituents’.

These polls have clear implications for climate change in the forthcoming midterms and the legislative agenda in the coming year. A Republican advance will stymie even the most modest efforts to engage climate change.

This midterm election may have repercussions not only for the future of the US but for the globe as a whole. Republican control of the Senate could very well make it difficult for President Obama to sign a global climate agreement in 2015. If the world's largest economy refuses to sign on it will all but dash hopes of keeping global temperature increases below the internationally upon 2 degree Celsius upper threshold limit.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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