In a post earlier today, I mentioned a mistake that many enviros made in the run up to the great cap-and-trade wars of 2009-10: they saw national polls showing support for clean energy and clean air and took those polls as evidence of political strength.
But as I noted in the post, political strength does not arise from broad, shallow support. It comes out of passionate, activated, well-funded constituencies that target specific legislators. That’s what moves votes in Congress.
Fortuitously, a great example of that error just showed up in my inbox. The indefatigable Anthony Leiserowitz and his team at Yale have completed their latest public survey on climate and energy. Here are a few of their conclusions:
• Concern about the effects of climate change is high across political groups, with majorities of Democrats and Independents expressing concern about global warming and its potential harm for themselves and future generations.
• Across party lines, there is support for taking action to reduce global warming, with pluralities of all groups favoring medium-scale efforts. Even among Republicans, a sizeable majority support making some effort to address global warming.
• Policies to promote renewable energy are favored by the majority of voters across party lines. Majorities support eliminating federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, but oppose ending subsidies to the renewable energy industry. Instead, solid majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support funding more research into renewable energy sources.
This is all interesting stuff, as usual. (If you’re not following Leiserowitz’s work, you really should.) But the report is titled: “The Political Benefits to Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2013.”
Wait, how did that happen? How did we go from broad support to “political benefits”? To get to the latter, you need to show politicians a substantial group of voters in their districts who would vote against them, or stop funding them, or hold public protests against them, on the basis of their failure to address climate change — or, conversely, who would celebrate them, vote for them, or give them money if they did address it.
Because I can certainly point them to a group of voters who will be absolutely furious — and vocal about it — if they do try to address climate change. Tea Party voters may not constitute a majority, but they are loud and active and funded by some extremely wealthy people.
Where is the loud, active, well-funded faction on the other side? Until that exists, all talk of “political benefits” will be empty at best, or misleading at worst.