Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GOP in serious bind on global warming opposition

Another day, another conflict between reality, voter perception, and Republican Party talking points. Yesterday came just the latest example of the increasingly bad news confronting the GOP in advance of the 2008 elections, this time in the form of a little-noticed post by Mark Mellman, pollster for John Kerry.

Mellman astutely observes in his article at The Hill that Republican voters in the critical New Hampshire primary are deeply concerned with the issue of global warming--contrary to the stance of the GOP overall. In fact, GOP presidential candidates will be in a serious bind when it comes to the issue: ignore it, and they lose the respect of their voters; make it an issue, and lose the respect of their wingnut base and the support of many of their big-money donors.

As Mellman says:

With Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) working overtime to convince America that the GOP is the vanguard of the Flat Earth Society, it is worth recognizing that Republican voters are far ahead of their elected officials, who are in danger of losing support as a result of embracing a Luddite position on global warming.

In December — long before Al Gore’s Oscar and the latest consensus scientific report — we surveyed 400 New Hampshire Republican primary voters for Clear the Air and Clean Air-Cool Planet and found them surprisingly enlightened, despite their conservative orientation. Unlike their leaders, Republican voters are concerned about the dangers posed by global warming and endorse immediate action to curb the carbon pollution that causes it.

Nearly eight in 10 Republican primary voters in New Hampshire believe global warming is a reality that is either happening now or will happen in the future. A solid 56 percent majority see global warming already occurring, while an additional 23 percent believe it will happen in the future. Just 14 percent think global warming will not happen.

Without getting into details, let me say that I've worked with Mellman before; while we have disagreements on policy and framing positions (and I believe he made serious mistakes in advising the Kerry campaign), the quality of his and his company's polling work is second-to-none and right on a par with that of Frank Luntz. Mellman is the closest thing the Democratic Party has right now to Frank Luntz in terms of accuracy and depth of their research. So I think it's safe to say that these numbers are truly indicative of the actual sentiments of New Hampshire voters, and that the polling was not biased.

But it gets worse for Republicans addicted to inaction on this critical issue. It turns out that a vast supermajority of New Hampshire Republicans want strong governmental action taken to curb emissions:

Moreover, this issue is of central concern to Republican primary voters. Nearly all (82 percent) say it is important to them that the U.S. take action to reduce the emissions that cause global warming....

Perhaps most strikingly, Newt Gingrich’s argument against the reality of global warming elicited extremely negative reactions from his fellow Republicans. When confronted with the former Speaker’s statement that “There’s no evidence to support global warming — none. It’s essentially cultural anthropology,” nearly half said it made them less likely to vote for the candidate who uttered it, including 34 percent who said it made them much less likely to vote for that candidate.

By contrast, the most compelling statements all carried clear calls to action. For example, 65 percent of GOP primary voters said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who said, “The Global Warming Plan I introduced in my state reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 ...”

And what about Iowa? Well, there is no public poll available about Iowans' concern over global warming, it should be remembered that Iowa was the only red state to join in the 2004 lawsuit against the five largest global warming polluters in the United States--joining mostly deep blue states California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. This is partly because the probable effects of global warming/climate change on Iowa's economy have been shown to be quite severe (as shown here, here and here). In fact, the consequences of global warming are already hitting Iowa: As ISU Extension Climatologist and Professor of Agricultural Meteorology Elwynn Taylor said at the announcement of the 2004 lawsuit,
"The first sector to take a hit from global warming is agriculture. Iowa and Kansas could feel it hardest because of our dependence on agriculture. Erratic, sharp weather fluctuations - a likely consequence of global warming - leads to wide extremes in crop yield. I've estimated that global warming already consistently is costing about half a billion dollars a year in reduced corn yield to Iowa alone. And the effect on beans is likely similar."

It's safe to say, therefore, that the issue of global warming is going to be a significant one not only for the Democratic primary faithful (many of whom would vote for Al Gore in a heartbeat), but also for the Republican primary voters as well.

Moreover, this news comes just as major rifts are being created among evangelicals over the importance of global warming and climate change within the overall spiritual/religious debate. This issue is already traumatizing and splitting the TheoCon segment of the GOP; it will soon cause a rift between the average GOP early primary voter and professional deniers in the keep-my-exploitation-money-at-any-costs moneyed wing of the party.

And that alone should be enough to give any GOP operative or candidate serious heartburn--even if Iraq and the most corrupt administration in history weren't problems enough for them. Like they say, when it rains it pours. Hopefully, the ensuing storm will wash away the corrupt Republican ideology for a generation.

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Blogger The Legal Alien said...

Thank you for an insightful political analysis and a well-rounded selection of data to back it up. I have gotten a feeling from pocking around the blogosphere that this global warming issue is a great deal more sinister than even Al Gore paints in his documentary. This global warming, while undoubtedly contributed to by human activity, follows a larger planetary cycle. IN this context, the Irag war and the ambitions of the right-wing are related to it very directly. Here is a view that explains it in details.

11:37 AM  

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