Conventional beltway wisdom holds that if you're running for office, you don't touch climate with a ten foot pole. It's considered "politically toxic," albeit by a cohort that tolerates birtherism and Donald Trump participating in the political process.
So unless you're gunning to represent one of those wacky radical leftist states like Vermont or California or Massachusetts, any meaningful engagement on climate issues is off the table. The politicos say so. Obama took the hint; he almost never mentions global warming in public. Romney's mum, too.
But new Yale research (pdf) says that conventional wisdom is probably wrong. A new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication finds that there are indeed a group of climate issues voters who will be more likely to support a candidate who's pro-climate. The report finds that "at the national level and among ten key swing states – taking a proclimate stand appears to benefit candidates more than hurt them with registered voters."
Here are the highlights:
- A majority of all registered voters (55%) say they will consider candidates' views on global warming when deciding how to vote.
- Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities believe global warming is happening and support action by the U.S. to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
- Independents lean toward “climate action” and look more like Democrats than Republicans on the issue.
- A pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.
- These patterns are found nationally and among ten swing states.
So theoretically, a cost/benefit analysis based on this data would yield a conclusion that goes something like this: since there are more "pro-climate issues voters" than ardent climate naysayer voters—even amongst registered Republican voters—and politicians would come out on top if they vocalized a platform that included climate solutions.
If Romney were to start including the talking point "I promise to seek out ways to address climate change" in his stump speech, 28% of "climate issues voters" would then be swayed to vote for him. Meanwhile, only 10% would be so disgusted by his global warming "alarmism" (what the fringy right calls agreeing with 97% of scientists in the field) that they'd be less inclined to go Romney at the ballot box. That's a net gain of 18% more voters!
Which makes sense, in theory. But we've got to remember that the 10% faction up there happens to include some of the most powerful, relevant elements of the Republican Party right now—the Tea Party leadership, anti-regulation oil & gas execs, and Fox News and the pundit class. And you don't want to piss them off. If any Republican up for election this year so much as makes a proactive peep about climate change, he's won himself a big fat negative news cycle. Maybe two. Limbaugh rants until his face goes purple, Fox News puts him through the ringer. (Romney would likely be met with similar derision, though I doubt Fox would want to hobble its own horse too badly)
Everybody would hear about how the conservative establishment loudly disapproves of candidate X—and the all that latent negative exposure isn't accounted for in the Yale study. Candidate X could then jeopardize SuperPAC funds, too. I don't know of too many deep-pocketed Republican donors eager to see their man call for climate solutions.
But for Dems, the research suggests that climate is clearly and unequivocally worth tackling. The GOP already paints them as big government lefties, and there aren't analogous factors mucking up the math: the Democratic base (and its donors) wants their candidates to address climate. And as the study points out, this goes for candidates in purplier swing states, too. There's simply no reason for a Democrat not to address climate—it's a winning proposition.