Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports the complete shift to clean energy, with a further seven in 10 voters supporting US involvement in the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to tackling dangerous heating. Two-thirds of voters said climate should be a priority for whoever wins the election. Younger U.S. voters in particular see the climate crisis as a top-tier issue, polling has shown, while the latest opinion research shows broad support for a greater focus on the issue in the media.
By Sam Brasch, CPR, October 20, 2020
Katherine Delanoy has been waiting for the public to catch up with her on climate change.
The 88-year-old of Eagle, Colorado, said she first started reading about the issue roughly three decades ago. The scientific reports were so alarming, Delanoy went back to school to get a master’s degree in environmental studies just before her 60th birthday. Today, it’s the top issue she considers before making political decisions.
“There’s been enough about climate change in the last five years. You think everyone would be on board,” she said.
Public opinion surveys suggest voters are increasingly thinking like Delanoy, especially in Colorado. Since the 1990s, polls have shown about four out of five voters believe climate change is happening. What’s new is how animating it’s become for a growing segment of voters.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication, political science and psychology at Stanford University.
Krosnick has led a project to measure public opinion on climate change for 23 years. In the latest survey, a quarter of U.S. voters said global warming is “extremely personally important,” marking a nearly twofold increase from 2015. The same appears to be true in Colorado. New findings from an upcoming report by Krosnick, along with other researchers at Stanford, Resources for the Future, and ReconMR, found 24 percent of Coloradans see warming the same way.
Krosnick said that means climate change has become a critical motivating issue for a segment of the Colorado electorate, along the lines of abortion or gun control.
“If you come to be passionate about climate change, what that means is you’re making this very big commitment to gather information about the issue, to read every newspaper story,” he said. “It’s a sort of a constant hobby of yours to be engaged on this issue.”
Krosnick can’t explain what’s behind the recent increase, but Colorado voters offer some clues. CPR News has conducted three informal surveys over the course of a year to help guide election coverage. More than any other issue, respondents said the climate and the environment would help determine their votes in the primaries and in November. While it’s not a scientific survey, many of the voters could explain their recent zeal on the issue.
John Pitocco, a 31-year-old product lead for a health care tech company, recently moved to West Colfax in Denver. With a baby on the way, he worries about the air quality in his neighborhood, which included a combination of pollution from vehicles and summer wildfire smoke.
“I’ve not been in a place where the air was choked out by smoke on a daily basis, where I couldn’t really go outside,” he said. “It’s definitely brought it into clearer focus for me.”
At first, Pitocco resisted describing himself as a single-issue climate voter. As someone who prefers to bike and walk around his neighborhood, he said he’s more invested in the local politics of public transit and housing density. Then, upon further reflection, he said each of those issues has a “one-to-one tie to climate change.” For example, he said fighting sprawl can also cut down on emissions.
Lindsay Nerad, a 42-year-old sustainable landscaper who lives and works on the Front Range, had her own reasons to care about the issue. She worries her favorite natural places won’t survive in a warmer world.
“The state of the environment is personal to me because it’s sort of like my refuge,” she said.
Katherine Delanoy, the 88-year-old in Eagle, can’t look away from reports of rapid warming in the Arctic. She fears climate change will doom her three great-grandchildren to a far less habitable planet.
“I can understand being very worried about the pandemic, but I cannot understand not being worried about climate change,” she said.
Each of the voters told CPR News their concerns about climate change haven’t diminished in recent months. Krosnick, the Stanford political scientist, said he has come to a similar finding through the public opinion surveys: The segment of voters paying close attention to climate change has only grown amid a pandemic and an economic downturn.
In the past, some social scientists have seen climate change as a “luxury” political issue, meaning it matters to people who don’t have to worry about things like food, income or health care. Krosnick said his latest findings suggest there isn’t a tension between bread-and-butter economic issues and global warming.
“In a way, we’ve seen the most power causal evidence we can,” he said, referring to the polling following the start of the pandemic. “Big economic shock, then, if anything, we’re seeing increases in many of the indicators of public belief in the existence and threat of climate change.”
The finding could also help explain how climate change has factored into the Senate election between former Gov. John Hickenlooper and incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner.
Both candidates have recognized the reality of human-caused climate change. Where they split is the economic costs of reducing fossil fuel production. In the current campaign, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has said he sees hydraulic fracturing eventually becoming “obsolete” as renewable energy becomes cheaper. “The challenge as any economy changes is how you get out ahead of it,” he said at a recent debate.
Meanwhile, Republican Garnder has attacked Hickenlooper for putting thousands of oil and gas jobs at risk.
Krosnick said his research suggests that line of attack might not resonate with voters.
“The overwhelming majority do not buy the claim that doing things about climate change will hurt the economy,” he said. “The plurality actually believed that doing things about climate change will help create new industries, create new jobs.”
That’s certainly the case for Pitocoo, the health care tech worker in Denver. He described the Senate race as a choice between “the lesser of two evils.” He can’t forgive Garnder for his Senate votes against efforts to reign in certain greenhouse gas emissions. As for Hickenloooper, Pitocco dislikes how he fought local limits on oil and gas as governor. Now, he’s glad Hicknelooper sees climate change as an opportunity.
“A lot of pro-climate initiatives would be a huge boon to our economy,” he said. “Instead of being known for oil and gas, we could be the new ones known for renewable tech.”
PRESS RELEASE: NEW POLLING SHOWS SUPPORT FOR STRONG CLIMATE ACTION IN COLORADO; ACHIEVING COLORADO’S GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION TARGETS AMIDST COVID-19 PANDEMIC
DENVER — Today, Conservation Colorado, Western Resource Advocates, and Global Strategy Group released new survey data and analysis showing that Colorado voters support taking strong government action on climate change, including overwhelming support for the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt strong rules within the next year that will guarantee that the state hits its carbon emission targets. The polls were conducted in December 2019 and May 2020, and demonstrate Coloradans’ continued support for climate action even during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recording of the video press conference is available here.
Colorado HB 19-1261, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jared Polis in May 2019, puts in statute science-based targets to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and by at least 90 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. The law directs the AQCC to develop cost-effective regulations to meet these targets, including setting a July 2020 statutory deadline for promulgation of rules. Multiple analyses show that even with the strong action to date from the executive branch, Legislature, and private businesses, Colorado is significantly off track from hitting its targets.
There is strong support for climate action across the state of Colorado. According to the May poll, by an overwhelming 61%-22% margin, Colorado voters support the state’s leaders taking strong action to combat climate change. This includes a large 64%-17% margin among unaffiliated voters and an equally impressive margin of 64%-16% in the swing suburbs of Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Adams counties. Moreover, the poll shows that voters will change their vote on the issue of climate: a Democratic candidate who supports strong climate action beats a Republican candidate who does not by 21 points in the generic legislative ballot. Specifically, while Democrats already enjoy an 8-point advantage on a standard generic ballot, a Democrat who backs climate action gains 13 additional points.
“Supporting climate action is more than good policy — it’s also good politics,” said Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado. “Voters throughout the state support Colorado’s leaders enacting bold, nationally leading climate policy that hits our pollution reduction targets and agree that it will benefit our state now and leave a positive legacy for future generations.”
“Coloradans’ unwavering support for strong climate action is further reason that our state must urgently pursue more ambitious policies to meet our science-based greenhouse gas reduction goals, even while we work to address the current health crisis,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, senior climate policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “While Colorado has already taken some important steps to address climate change, more work is needed. We urge our leaders to listen to voters and take additional action to reduce climate pollution and protect our communities – particularly those that continue to suffer disproportionately due to harmful emissions.”
Voters overwhelmingly agree that the AQCC should act quickly to implement strong rules to guarantee
Colorado hits its carbon emissions targets, the survey found. And, after hearing details of Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, seven in 10 voters (71%) agreed that the AQCC should act within the next year to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its targets.
Additionally, voters believe creating these rules will have positive impacts in Colorado. They believe that the rules will have clear benefits on air quality, public health, water and public lands, as well as future generations of their families and climate – and a plurality agrees that these rules will have a positive impact on the economy.
Global Strategy Group conducted a survey of 600 registered voters in Colorado between December 13 and December 17, 2019, plus an oversample of 122 Latinx registered voters (for a total of 184 Latinx voters) and a second survey of 800 registered voters in Colorado between May 7 and May 11, 2020. The surveys were conducted online via a combination of text-to-web methodology, with voters chosen at random from the voter file, and with respondents who were recruited from multiple opt-in online panel vendors. All respondents were verified against a voter file, and special care was taken to ensure the demographic composition of our sample matched that of Colorado’s registered voter population across a variety of demographic variables including party registration, race, gender, age, education, region, and population density.
The Guardian Sep. 25, 2020
A woman marks down her vote on a ballot for the Democratic presidential primary election at a polling place on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Herndon, Virginia. Samuel Corum / Getty Images
By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports the complete shift to clean energy, with a further seven in 10 voters supporting US involvement in the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to tackling dangerous heating. Two-thirds of voters said climate should be a priority for whoever wins the election.
“There may be a divide on Capitol Hill but the large majority of us are worried about climate change and want to see leaders deal with it,” said Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. “This is the first election where climate change has featured heavily. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in American politics before.”
Over the past decade, the crisis has become a sharply partisan political topic as Republicans embraced denial and obfuscation of the escalating crisis. Donald Trump called climate science a “hoax” and his administration set about dismantling every policy put in place by Barack Obama to reduce planet-heating emissions.
However, the new polling, on behalf of the Guardian, Vice Media Group and Covering Climate Now, by Climate Nexus, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, shows that the political landscape among voters appears to be shifting.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?
Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed over the climate crisis, with 90% describing it as either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem and more than eight in 10 supporting a Green New Deal, a vast government-led climate program, to combat it.
This concern is filtering through, to a lesser degree, to Republican voters. More than half say climate change is a very or somewhat serious problem, with 41% backing the Green New Deal, despite it being widely vilified by Republican party leaders. A further 51% of Republican voters support U.S. involvement in the Paris climate accords.
The polling suggests Trump, who has triggered the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement and routinely disparages climate science, will be the first U.S. president to face a voter backlash over the climate crisis. His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to reduce U.S. energy emissions to net zero by 2050 and promised a $2tn investment to create millions of new jobs in clean energy industries.
“Republican officeholders really do have to worry about this,” said Maibach. “Young Republicans are becoming less accepting of the party line that climate change isn’t real or isn’t a serious problem. They don’t want climate denial any more, moderate Republicans don’t want climate denial any more and women voters largely don’t want to support climate denialist candidates any more either.”
The surge in voter appetite for climate action follows a barrage of disasters that have hit the U.S. recently, including huge wildfires that have scorched the west coast and powerful hurricanes that have pummeled the U.S. south. Scientists say rising global temperatures, caused by humans burning fossil fuels, are aiding the spread of wildfires and making hurricanes more intense.
Trump’s first term in office has also seen a growing youth-led climate protest movement, with the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg as its figurehead. Younger U.S. voters see the climate crisis as a top-tier issue, polling has shown, while the latest opinion research shows broad support for a greater focus on the issue in the media.
More than six in 10 respondents said the media should explicitly outline the link between extreme weather events and the climate crisis, while nearly three-quarters want moderators to ask questions about the climate crisis during the three televised presidential debates, which start next week. In 2016, no questions were asked about climate during the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story. https://www.cpr.org/2020/10/20/for-many-colorado-voters-climate-is-personal-and-pushing-them-at-the-polls/