Image: Earth Hour GlobalStanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick and his colleagues analyzed the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 congressional election. They found:
“Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” Krosnick said. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.”
I asked Krosnick by email about the implications of his research for the president, who has all but dropped “climate change” from his vocabulary. Krosnick answered:
Our research suggests that it would be wise for the president, and for all other elected officials who believe that climate change is a problem and merits government attention, to say this publicly and vigorously, because most Americans share these views. Expressing and pursuing green goals on climate change will gain votes on election day and seem likely to increase the president’s and the congress’ approval ratings.
I’ve talked to senior officials from the administration as well as journalists who cover them — and both groups report that team Obama has bought into the nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive view that climate change is not a winning issue politically.
And it is nonsense. Professor Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, made the exact same point in a Climate Progress guest post last month.
At the end, I repost yet again the umpteen polls that support this painfully obvious conclusion. This new election analysis supports earlier polling analysis by Krosnick, which found:
Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change — acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame, and advocating the need for action — according to a June 2011 study [PDF] by researchers at Stanford University.
Read Krosnick’s new study here [PDF]. Let’s look at some more of its findings, particularly at the presidential level:
A political candidate’s electoral victory or defeat is influenced by his or her stance on climate change policy, according to new Stanford University studies of the most recent presidential and congressional elections.
“These studies are a coordinated effort looking at whether candidates’ statements on climate change translated into real votes,” said Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and of political science at Stanford, who led two new studies — one of the 2008 presidential election and one of the 2010 congressional elections. “All this suggests that votes can be gained by taking ‘green’ positions on climate change and votes will be lost by taking ‘not-green’ positions.”
The findings are consistent with Krosnick’s previous research on voters’ preferences in a hypothetical election. Taken together, the studies make a strong case that for candidates of any party, saying climate change is real and supporting policies aimed at tackling the issue is a good way to woo voters, said Krosnick, a senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
“Recently, we’ve seen many politicians choose to say nothing about climate change or to take aggressive skeptical stances,” Krosnick said. “If the public is perceived as being increasingly skeptical about climate change, these strategies would be understandable, but our surveys have suggested something different.”
Voters preferred “greener” president
In the presidential election study, Krosnick and his colleagues asked voters for their opinions about climate and politics before and after the 2008 election. The research team conducted online surveys to reach a nationwide sample of voters.
Before the election, the researchers asked voters whether they supported or opposed government policies to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions. The survey also asked what voters thought of Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s positions on climate change. After the election, the voters reported if and for whom they had voted.
Not surprisingly, more people who said their own views on climate change were closer to Obama’s position than to McCain’s voted for Obama. This tendency was especially true among voters who cared a lot about climate change and persisted regardless of the voter’s ideology, party affiliation, preferred size of government, and opinion about President Bush’s job performance.
Of course, since the election, Obama’s messaging has become truly dreadful. And in a world where you turn the triumph of health-care reform into a political liability, where you buy into and repeat the pernicious right-wing frame on issues from the debt ceiling to clean air for kids, then perhaps whatever you talk about will turn out to be a political loser.
But the fact remains that the public strongly supports climate action and aggressive clean energy policies, even during the depths of the recession, even in the face of an unprecedented fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign during the climate bill debate — even without the White House using its bully pulpit to tip the scales further: