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Politicians Should Address Climate Change Concerns, Study Says

First Posted: 10/14/11 03:26 PM ET Updated: 12/14/11 05:12 AM ET

Does a politician's stance on climate change matter in an election?

Yes, according to a study from Stanford University entitled "The Impact of Candidates’ Statements about Climate Change on Electoral Success in 2008 and 2010: Evidence Using Three Methodologies."

Co-author Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor of communication and political science, is making the case that for candidates, "saying climate change is real and supporting policies aimed at tackling the issue is a good way to woo voters," according to ScienceDaily.

Using data from two studies, of the 2008 presidential and 2010 congressional elections, Krosnick and his colleagues argue that candidates with a pro-"green" stance were likely to fare better than their counterparts who took skeptical stances or remained quiet on green issues.

In 2008, Krosnick's team surveyed Americans, asking who they voted for in the presidential election, whether they "supported or opposed government policies to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions" and what they thought of Obama and McCain's environmental positions, according to ScienceDaily. They weren't surprised to find that people whose stance on climate change was closer to Obama's, voted for Obama over McCain.

For the 2010 congressional elections, Krosnick compared candidates' environmental stances on their websites with their outcome in the election. Krosnick told ScienceDaily, "Democrats who took 'green' positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent. Republicans who took 'not-green' positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent."

Krosnick admitted, however, that the 2010 study did have a few limitations. He and his colleagues only examined text statements on candidates' websites and not any statements made in other media, according to Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

Krosnick said, "Our studies show no decline in public belief in the existence and threat of climate change, and that politicians might benefit from taking a 'green' stance," reports ScienceDaily.

Krosnick elaborated in The New York Times, "Essentially what we found in our admittedly very simplified study is that candidates have nothing to lose from taking a green position on climate change."

Despite the fact that since 2008, many Americans rate economic issues as a higher priority than the environment, studies show the number of Americans who believe the Earth is warming has grown. 83 percent agreed the Earth was warming in a recent Reuters/Stanford/Ipsos poll, compared to 75 percent last year. Yet nearly 27 percent of respondents said the warming occurs naturally, and not by humans or a combination of both.

Last year, Krosnick co-authored a study which found that in a thousand-person phone survey, "exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy."

The takeaway message from Krosnick's most recent study is clear. He told Grist, "Our research suggests that it would be wise for the president, and for all other elected officials who believe that climate change is a problem and merits government attention, to say this publicly and vigorously, because most Americans share these views."

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Filed by James Gerken  |