Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment recently released the result of polls suggesting that Republican candidates should reconsider pandering to the most ideologically locked-in Republican voters on climate change.
The numbers suggest there is no downside risk for GOP candidates who accept scientists’ conclusions about the impacts of fossil fuel emissions on climate and who support policies encouraging development of alternative energy resources. Their Republican support would largely hold. Indeed, they could gain, by wooing independents and ticket-splitting Democrats.
Republican candidates are, with a few exceptions, tending toward a groupthink of avoiding any hint that they’re willing to listen to climate scientists, or to support any policy that would cool down the rising heat.
Tim Pawlenty, for instance, has taken with gusto to climate change political correctness. T-Paw, trying a little too hard to be Tea Party, has thrown himself on the mercy of the climate-change-is-a-hoax crowd by disowning the mainstream energy and climate record that he compiled as Minnesota’s governor.
For Republican voters who admired Pawlenty’s past life as a pragmatist, it hurts to watch such unseemly displays of groveling.
Stanford’s numbers don’t seem to support the wisdom of such a strategy. In a national study that included interviews with 1,001 voters, respondents were read issue statements assigned to hypothetical Senate candidates.
One of the statements read to respondents randomly assigned to a “green” group was a “green” climate stance. A “not-green” group heard a “not-green” statement. In a third, control group, the hypothetical candidate said nothing about climate.
Among Republican respondents, the “green” statement resulted in a small decline in voter support for the candidate compared to the control group. However, the “not-green” statement resulted in a slightly greater decline. In both cases, green and not green, the candidate’s GOP support largely held.
Among Democrats and independents, the largest support went to the candidate with the “green” statement, as might be expected. The silent candidate was second, and the “not-green” candidate trailed badly.
Similar results were reported from similar surveys among voters in Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Stanford’s researchers offered a few grains of salt. The survey did not focus on gathering the views of likely voters only, hypothetical candidates took positions on only a few issues, and voters were not questioned on how they would react if hypothetical candidates were attacked by opponents for their climate positions.
Still, the research offers a promising indicator that Republican candidates have some room for maneuver on climate change. Donning a straitjacket that forbids even the slightest deviation from climate denial orthodoxy might not be the smartest general election strategy, for which building a majority requires mastering the art of addition, not subtraction.