October 13, 2009
Politico Poll Shows Climate Still Ranks Dead Last Among Voter Concerns
Despite years of campaigning, documentaries, increasingly apocalyptic narratives and supposedly landmark climate and energy legislation awaiting Senate consideration, a recent Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO poll shows the majority of the public still ranks climate change last among important issues that affect the way it votes and ranks the economy before all else, even government spending.
According to Politico:
As the nation struggles to climb out of a recession, 45 percent rated the economy as the most important issue in deciding their vote if the congressional election were held today, followed by 21 percent who said government spending, 20 percent who chose health care reform and 9 percent who said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just 4 percent ranked climate change as the top issue.
This finding isn't new by any stretch. But it is significant news, given the heated debate on climate and energy policy that has passed through the House and is ongoing in the Senate.
As Politico points out, despite growing Congressional and presidential attention to climate change, in today's economic times, the public is willing to forego action on climate change if it means stronger economic growth:
"Even as the Obama administration is pushing for climate protection legislation, 62 percent of those polled agreed that "economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent." The remaining 38 percent believed that "protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth."
These results are even more poignant given the fact that the rhetorical framing of both the House and Senate climate bills is specifically designed to tap the public's economy-centric priorities by emphasizing movement toward a "clean energy economy" and "green jobs" throughout the text. But this recent poll tells environmentalists and policymakers a somewhat disheartening and yes, inconvenient truth: voters are concerned with jobs first and foremost -- green jobs are fine as long they don't negatively impact the economy, of course. But the focus of the public is on the jobs, not the green. As far as other climate related issues are concerned, the public clearly feels those problems can take a number.
Time and again, public opinion research sends a clear message: climate advocates are right to frame objectives around "clean energy jobs" and energy independence. Breakthrough has long advocated this type of narrative, but refocusing on clean energy jobs, economic competitiveness and energy security has to go far beyond rhetoric and right down to the actual substance of the legislation.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) direct investments in clean energy as a means to stimulate the economy offer a model of policy that connects with Americans' far more salient concerns about the economy and jobs at both a rhetorical and substantive level. But so far, that model has been ignored in Congressional climate legislation, in favor of a cap and trade system, long advocated by environmentalists, that will do far too little to advance the clean energy economy it promises - no matter how neatly it is wrapped in an American flag and economic rhetoric.