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How Important Is Climate Change To Voters?

We all know climate change is an important issue. But just how important is it to voters? 

That’s something pollsters, the media and political campaign teams want to know ahead of the 2020 elections. 

Organizations from CNN to Gallup to the League of Conservation Voters have all produced polls that asked Americans how they feel about climate change.

Also add to the list: George Mason and Yale universities. They conduct a biannual survey of voters with a focus on climate change. 

John Kotcher -- an assistant professor at George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, which works with Yale's Climate Change Communication program -- said that, per the survey, climate change lands in the middle of the pack when it comes to people's voting priorities, but "the devil is really in the details."

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"When we look among political groups, among liberal democrats it's the No. 3 issue that will be important to their vote," he said. "Whereas when you look at, say, moderate Republicans, it tends to be much lower, and for conservative Republicans, it is rated as dead last."

Kotcher also found that many Americans underestimate just how many of their fellow citizens believe climate change is happening and he said other research by political scientists show congressional staffers, both Democrats and Republicans, also underestimate "the degree of support that Americans possess" for regulations to address climate change. 

The researchers also found a rise in the number of people overall that believe climate change is happening and human-caused, and that increase has especially been happening among Republicans.

"Democrats have broadly been pretty confident in their belief that climate change is happening and human-caused over time," he said. "But we see more Republicans saying that they actually believe that climate change is happening and human-caused and that they're worried about it these days."

Beyond just Democrats and Republicans, Kotcher said most independent voters they talked to want more action on climate change. He said candidates looking to attract more independent voters could do so by talking about climate change and plans to address it.

The new polling data is welcome news for the League of Conservation Voters. The group has been working on environmental issues for decades.

Matt McKnight, director of the group's Change the Climate 2020 political initiative, said LCV's polls have shown that climate change is a top issue for Democratic primary voters, second only to healthcare.

McKnight also pointed to a recent Associated Press poll on climate change that showed general voters were also concerned about it.

He said people are not just concerned about the impacts like more extreme weather and rising sea levels, but they also see the benefits of addressing the problem.

"Fifty-five percent, a majority of general election voters, see that moving to 100-percent clean energy is a net benefit because it creates jobs," he said. "What we're seeing is that running on climate is good policy and it's good politics for Democratic presidential candidates and other candidates."

McKnight noted that candidates who ran on climate change and ways to address it have won in hundreds of races around the country from the local level to Congress.

"You're seeing this polling and sometimes it's hard to trust the polling, but when you see that candidates are also winning on these issues, they're running on these issues, they're putting them in their mail pieces and in their commercials," he said. "They're talking about the climate crisis and the clean energy economy and winning, then it becomes more and more clear for voters and backs up what the polling is showing us."

Guests

Matt McKnight, director, League of Conservation Voters' Change the Climate 2020 campaign; John Kotcher, research assistant professor, George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication

 

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