I just received an interesting memo from a couple of polling firms that have done recent surveys to test the impact of the Solyndra faux-scandal — a statewide survey in Ohio and some focus groups in California. The work was done by Public Opinion Strategies (a well-known Republican firm) and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a well-known Democratic firm).

The top-line result: Knowledge of the faux-scandal is mostly confined to news junkies, and public support for clean energy broadly, and solar power specifically, remains deep and strong.

man giving thumbs-up in front of solar panelIn other words, Republicans have not yet succeeded in Climategate-ing Solyndra. Not that they’ve stopped trying!

Some interesting tidbits from the memo:

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• People who had heard a “great deal” about Solyndra were “overwhelmingly conservative, male and older.” Hm, that’s the same demographic that watches Fox News and listens to talk radio! Surely a coincidence.

• The green-economy message really seems to be sinking in. This part is so interesting I’m going to quote it at length:

In dozens of focus groups we have conducted this month across the country on a wide variety of subjects, when voters are asked where they would like new jobs in their state to come from, the first words out of their mouths are almost always the same — clean energy and related technology. Voters believe that the clean energy economy is here and is growing, and they want their state to have a part of it.

Their positive feelings about the clean energy industry translate into high regard for the leading companies in the industry. In focus groups in electorally important states that [Public Opinion Strategies] conducted after the Solyndra news story broke, voters consistently indicated that renewable energy companies are the types of businesses that they regard most positively and trust.

Similarly, in [Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates]’s California research, even a group of Republican male swing voters — who expressed deep cynicism about government, business, and most other major institutions in American life — voiced strong faith in the viability of the solar industry. These voters were quick to condemn the federal government for failing to do its due diligence in evaluating Solyndra’s business prospects, and for squandering taxpayer dollars on what they saw as a bad bet. But even the most hardened conservatives in that group strongly agreed that the solar industry is strong, growing, and worthy of future investment.

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That’s amazing — nothing elicits that kind of pan-partisan positive feeling any more. There is a deep, strong core of support for clean energy that is not being translated well to policy and political momentum. That is the No. 1 dilemma climate hawks have to solve.

• The conservative argument, which tries to use Solyndra to tarnish the whole idea of public investments in clean energy, is failing. Ohio voters were presented with two arguments: One cast Solyndra as emblematic of clean energy investment and the other cast it as an anomaly that shouldn’t dim enthusiasm for such investments. They favored the latter 62 to 31 percent.

• Opposition to clean energy investment is confined almost entirely to Tea Party voters. Republican women and non-TPers fall more in line with the rest of the public — they support continued investment by 63 percent, whereas Tea Partiers do by only 36 percent.

• Insofar as Solyndra poses a problem for future public investments, it has little to do with clean energy or solar power specifically and everything to do with general skepticism toward public investment.

This is a crucial point to understand and can help explain the disconnect I mentioned above. People support clean energy but they are highly, highly skeptical of the government’s ability to invest wisely. That bit of public perception is where the crucial battle is being fought.