Mark Mellman, a leading pollster for progressives since 1982, has written a must-read op-ed slamming the latest dubious messaging advice:
Some progressives seem unwilling to take yes for an answer.
Just as the long battle for public opinion on global warming is being won, along comes a well-meaning Bob Perkowitz and his ecoAmerica with a politically naïve, methodologically flawed and factually inaccurate study, which he apparently interprets as telling us that voters do not care about global warming.
He could hardly be more wrong.
In fact, most Americans believe global warming is real, is happening now and constitutes a serious threat, particularly to future generations.
Last week, I was very critical of ecoAmerica’s advice on climate messaging after sitting through the full two-hour presentation (see “Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ — and that’s a good thing“).
Perkowitz, in the comments, questioned “What background do you have in the cognitive sciences or marketing?“ Although it is my full-time job — and has been my part-time job for nearly two decades — and although I have followed all the polling and messaging reports closely, I’m just a lowly messaging amateur.
On the other hand, Robert J. Brulle, Professor of Sociology and Environmental Science, Department of Culture and Communications, Drexel University — and a widely published expert on environmental messaging — emailed me about my analysis:
I liked your blog post today. I think we agree at about the 95% level across the board.
And now we have Mark Mellman, president of The Mellman Group, whose “current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.” Mellman is one of the most respected pollsters and messaging gurus in the progressive world. Here’s his take on the public view of global warming based on all the recent polling, including his own:
A survey we completed in March reveals that nearly eight in 10 voters believe global warming is either happening now or will happen in the future, with 53 percent seeing evidence that it is happening right now. Gallup uncovered similar attitudes, as 53 percent told them global warming has already begun, while just 16 percent are deniers, expecting it will never happe.
Over two-thirds of the electorate believes global warming constitutes a serious threat. In response to a different question, posed by researchers from Yale and George Mason universities, a similar number said they “worry” about global warming. A third believes it will harm them, while 61 percent foresee harm to future generations.
Perhaps more importantly, voters are demanding action to reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming. In the Yale/George Mason poll, two-thirds urge Congress to do more on the issue, and in our survey, 77 percent favor action to reduce carbon emissions. In an April ABC/Washington Post poll, 75 percent supported federal regulations on the release of greenhouse gases.
In short, a strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action.
Put another way, most of the public gets this — and in particular they understand things are going to get much worse on our current emissions path. That’s why it is so crucial we keep messaging on climate science and impacts, and keep warning people about what is to come — although we can definitely do it better and smarter, as I’ll discuss in future posts.
Mr. Perkowitz devalues that consensus, suggesting Republicans stand outside it because they express less concern about the problem than Democrats and independents. That is true and lamentable, but Republicans are also less concerned about jobs and we have not shied away from trying to create them, nor started calling them “income generating opportunities” in a desperate attempt to solicit GOP support. Republicans also care less about healthcare than other Americans, but no one is using that as an excuse to avoid action.
Indeed, part of the Republicans’ problem with the majority of America is their failure to take seriously voters’ real concerns on issues ranging from jobs to healthcare to energy and global warming.
While some Republican leaders, like John McCain and John Warner, have been forthright in recognizing the need to reduce global warming, others, who deny the problem and discourage solutions, are out of touch with their own base.
Yes, Democrats are more concerned about the problem than are Republicans, but that does not mean Republicans are unconcerned. Far from it — as Mr. Perkowitz’s own data conclusively demonstrate. While 90 percent of Democrats believe global warming is happening, so does a 54 percent majority of Republicans. While 84 percent of Democrats believe global warming is harmful to people, so do 56 percent of Republicans. While 87 percent of Democrats call it their “duty” to stop global warming, 60 percent of Republicans also feels duty-bound to join the battle.
When 84 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans think global warming is harmful to people; when 86 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans favor action to reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming — it is time to take yes for an answer; it is time for elected officials to recognize the consensus and act, instead of heeding those who, inexplicably, regard a nearly unprecedented level of public unanimity as a prerequisite for legislative accomplishment.
If you wonder why I keep blogging on this, consider that the Wall Street Journal (subs. req’d), reported on Tuesday:
Seeking to bolster public support for climate legislation, the Obama administration is consulting pollsters who advocate avoiding phrases such as “cap-and-trade” and “global warming.” On Monday, the White House Council on Environmental Quality was scheduled to meet with Robert Perkowitz, president of ecoAmerica, a Washington-based nonprofit that uses “psychographic research” to “shift personal and civic choices of environmentally agnostic Americans,” according to its Web site.
“We’re trying to give them phrases that work,” Mr. Perkowitz said in an interview. He said that in a survey of some 2,000 Americans conducted by his group in March and April, less than half of the respondents said they would support a “cap-and-trade” policy, and that only 24% said they knew what the phrase means. “If you call it ‘clean energy dividend’…almost anything other than ‘cap and trade,’ you’ll get people responding a lot more favorably,” he said.
Now E&E News PM (subs. req’d) did report later that day:
Veteran Democratic pollster Mark Mellman will meet tonight with the entire House Democratic caucus to outline strategies for how the party should engage with the public on energy and climate change issues….
Mellman’s presentation comes a day after a White House Council on Environmental Quality official met for the second time with Washington-based nonprofit ecoAmerica to discuss communication strategies on climate change. CEQ spokeswoman Christine Glunz said the meeting was one of many with outside groups, adding, “The administration is not making any changes in the way it communicates about climate change.”
Mellman also met this morning with Senate Democratic leaders to present polling work on climate and energy.
I will add that I have credible sources who tell me that some White House political types have been urging progressives politicians not to talk about climate science. So far, Obama has ignored them, and hopefully Mellman will prove persuasive with Congressional leaders.
Now is not the time to be back on our heels.
Now is not the time to be self-censoring — the status quo media does enough of that for us!