Conventional wisdom can be a funny thing, especially in politics. It’s often based on anecdote rather than fact. Take the politics of climate, for instance. The fossil fuel industry, backed by the Koch brothers, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into defeating environmental champions. That kind of cash can be scary to an incumbent and can make an issue, like addressing climate change, seem like the third rail of politics. Never mind that they had a similar win rate in the last election to the 1990 Patriots football team (1-15-0). Never mind that we can now see how climate change is affecting the world around us each day. Now, with critical mid-terms approaching, some GOP strategists are trying to say that Republicans will benefit in midterm elections if they go on record opposing efforts to clean up our air and protect future generations from climate change.
They are wrong.
Here’s what’s at the center of this scare tactic: The Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants in June. These plants kick out 40 percent of carbon emissions in our country, and yet Republicans leaders are already trying to block the agency from finally cleaning them up. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is actually attempting to force the Senate to vote on (using a maneuver that has no legal basis) to block the carbon limits before they are even proposed.
The fact is, voters want these plants to clean up their carbon pollution. Senators should take notice. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.
When we commissioned this poll a few weeks ago, some thought we were taking a chance – putting it mildly – by hiring a well-known candidate pollster and encouraging him to ask the hard questions. We didn’t see it as a risky move because we know that voters have consistently supported clean energy and climate action in countless surveys, and in the 2012 election.
Some thought we were a little crazy when we asked them to focus on the toughest Senate battleground states, places where environmental issues don’t usually take a front seat in politics like, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire. Most of them run purple if not red. Yet even within more conservative communities, people support reducing dangerous carbon pollution by wide margins.
Earlier this week I briefed several Senators on the results, and some were especially struck by what the numbers say about women voters. Pundits are already calling 2014 the “Year of the Woman”. Women are running in several high-profile races and issues associated with the women electorate are in the headlines every day. Republicans are trying to lure women back after alienating them so thoroughly in 2012 and so the female vote could decide several elections.
Now all candidates have yet another thing to add to their list of issues women care about: supporting limits on dangerous carbon pollution. Women understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. That begins with holding power plants accountable for the carbon they pump into our skies.
Yet this new poll confirms that climate change isn’t just important to women. Male voters (by a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. Republicans (by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent) and Democrats (by a margin of 87 percent to 8 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. And Northerners (by a margin of 69 percent to 25 percent) and Southerners (by a margin of 64 percent to 28 percent) want to do reduce carbon pollution.
Bottom line: climate is shaping up to be one of those issues that defies conventional wisdom. Voters support doing the right thing on climate. Candidates would do well to pay attention.