THE BLOG

Dem Voters and Global Warming

12/14/2006 06:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's lots of buzz in the progressosphere about a new poll in Iowa -- site of a pivotal Dem primary -- showing John Edwards in the lead.

Another poll of Iowa Dems commissioned by Environmental Defense also found some interesting stuff:

  • A 72% of majority of Democratic caucus-goers say they consider global warming to be extremely (32%) or very (39%) serious -- while another 15% say it is fairly serious. Only 11% dismiss it as just somewhat (9%) or not at all serious (2%).
  • Among a separate poll of Democratic county chairs and vice chairs, 77% think global warming is extremely (37%) or very (40%) serious -- plus 14% who say it is fairly serious.

Perhaps even more interesting, voters don't know which candidates are best on the issue:

  • Fully 69% of caucus-goers and 80% of county chairs/vice chairs say they would be more likely "to support a presidential candidate who made cutting carbon pollution and global warming a big issue in their campaign." Only 14% of caucus-goers and 9% of county chairs say they would be less likely to support such a candidate.
  • Large blocs of caucus-goers -- ranging from 43% to 86% -- either do not know the candidates or more likely do not know their stands on global warming. In no case are a majority of caucus-goers able to offer an excellent or good rating of likely Democratic candidates' performance on addressing the issue of global warming (ranging from 42% excellent/good for John Edwards to 28% for Tom Vilsack to 6% for Chris Dodd).

There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Voters always say they worry about global warming, but they never really use it as a basis for how to vote. There are no global warming single-issue voters like there are on trade, or immigration, or abortion, or the war. So candidates don't make efforts to distinguish themselves on the issue. But because candidates don't distinguish themselves on the issue, voters can't really figure out how to express their concern with their vote.

The fact is, aside from not-yet-a-candidate Al Gore, no Dem presidential hopeful takes a particularly distinct position on global warming. They all mouth basically the same platitudes and support the same mushy policies.

It's not hard to figure out why, either. While voters claim to be concerned about global warming, it takes almost nothing to knock it back among their priorities. They're concerned, sure, but they don't want higher gas prices, or any new taxes, or any new government bureaucracies, or any lost jobs, or any, you know ... cost. That leaves a pretty limited palette for politicians to work with, since any policy with teeth will come with costs -- or at least will be susceptible to being portrayed that way by industry groups that stand to lose out.

I return to a familiar point: I doubt global warming will ever be a primary political issue. By that I mean, we'll see lots of policies pitched like this: "Policy X will solve Problem Y ... and will also help fight global warming." But "Policy X will fight global warming" will never be enough, on its own. To quote myself:

I wish enviros would do a lot more to sell their ideas -- renewable energy, local food systems, bright green cities, etc. -- on their own merits, rather than as a way to dodge an oncoming train.

Enacting those ideas would produce a better, safer, cleaner, more equitable, more enjoyable world. That's worth doing totally irrespective of climate change. Don't you think?