Climate Change 2013: Republicans Shifting Stance On Global Warming


Perhaps climate is another issue the Republican Party leadership should do some soul-searching on. The evidence is mounting: Republicans and right-leaning independents are changing their minds, and increasingly supporting action on climate change and increased clean energy production.

A report from Yale and George Mason University Centers for Climate Change Communication, released in early April, surveyed Republican and Republican-leaning independents on their attitudes regarding climate change and clean energy. Here are four key takeaways from this study that should give pause to the Republican Party Leadership.

1. A majority think climate change is happening and support action to address it.

A slim majority (52%*) of respondents think climate change is happening (and only 26% deny it). When presented with two arguments for responding to climate change — one based in free-market values and the other in conserving clean air and water — a more convincing 62% of respondents said America should take steps to address climate change. This finding is bolstered by a recently released Gallup poll which confirms that increasing numbers of Republican voters are concerned about climate change, approaching the highs seen in 2000 as seen in the chart below.

By looking at the Republican Party platform, and the actions of top party leaders, you would never know that so many of their constituents think we should be doing something about climate change. The 2012 Republican Party Platform completely eliminated the section in the 2008 platform devoted to climate change, and instead criticizes the Obama administration for considering climate change a “severe threat.” Meanwhile, many Republicans continue to deny the reality of climate in the face of years of scientific consensus. A few are leading the push to bring their party into line with what a majority of their constituents recognize already, but the party has a long way to go.

2. Three in four Republican voters support using more renewable energy in America

In the Yale study, a whopping 77% of respondents supported using more renewable energy in America than is used today, with 69% of these responses saying action should be taken “immediately.” Additionally, 64% think America “should take action to reduce our fossil fuel use.” These are Republican voters, calling for a shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy — are their representatives listening?

It doesn’t seem like it.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders have backed away from clean energy since 2008. The Party Platform stance on renewables has gotten considerably less friendly. Meanwhile, party leaders have thrown their weight behind increased fossil fuel extraction, and Mitt Romney would have ended the wind energy production tax credit, and shifted energy priorities towards fossil fuels and away from renewables.

3. Only one third agree with the Republican Party stance on climate, and most think elected leaders are unresponsive to their views.

Just 34% of respondents agree or strongly agree with the party’s stance on climate change; for comparison, the same survey found that almost twice as many (60%) agree with the Party’s stance on the deficit.

Not only do these voter not agree with their party’s stance on climate change, but also they don’t think their representatives are very responsive to the opinions of people like them. Only 19% disagreed with the statement “People like me don’t have any say in what the government does about climate change,” and a majority (62%) agreed that elected officials did not care what they thought about climate change.

This is a sad state of affairs for a representative democracy, but its easy to see why these respondents think they don’t have a say in the position of their own representatives.

4. The benefits of fossil fuel reduction could outweigh the costs — if framed correctly.

A majority of  respondents agreed with many of the benefits of limiting our fossil fuel use, with the most popular being “Help free us from dependence on foreign oil” (66%) followed by “Save resources for our children & grandchildren to use” (57%) and “Provide a better life for our children & grandchildren” (56%). The potential costs associated with reducing fossil fuel use were selected significantly less often, indicating that the benefits of fossil fuel use could be more important to respondents than the costs.

However, it is important to note that the most concerning impacts of reducing fossil fuel use included more government regulation, and rising energy prices; these were selected by 50% and 48% of the respondents respectively, which is within the sampling error* of a true majority. Additionally, the least selected benefit of fossil fuel use was “Limit climate change” (30%).** These values provide anti-climate action Republicans with plenty of fodder to deter these citizens from supporting pursuing sensible renewable energy policy, since emphasizing regulation and energy prices could — and do — outgun climate-based support.

Although it seems Republican voters’ attitudes to climate change action and renewable energy are warming, their core values are not. Strong national support for climate action is possible if Republican leaders get in touch with the opinions of their base — that much is clear in this study. For it to happen, though, these conservative voters need to be rallied by conservative political leaders who will use arguments appealing to conservative core values.