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Surveys Say Climate Change Is a Top Election Issue for Democrats

As Democratic candidates debate in Miami, Fla., new surveys indicate that climate change and clean energy are among the top priorities for Democratic voters in 2020.

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With Democratic candidates for president holding their first debates this week in Miami, Fla., two new related surveys show that climate change and clean energy are top-tier issues for Democratic voters in 2020.

“We believe that the debates in Miami and the following debates in other places offer candidates a critical opportunity to discuss their plans for climate action,” said Peter Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), at a 25 June briefing about the surveys. “No candidate for president should be taking the debate stage, especially in a frontline community like Miami, without discussing how he or she will address this crisis on day one and really throughout every day of their presidency.”

The surveys were conducted jointly in June by Normington Petts and Hart Research Associates for LCV and the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action Fund). The surveys polled 1,000 likely 2020 Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers and 1,201 registered voters in 14 battleground states. Those battleground states, which Trump narrowly won in the 2016 election, include Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

A majority of surveyed general election voters believe that climate change is a crisis or a very serious problem and that Democrats have a clear advantage over President Donald Trump and Republicans on climate change and the environment.

Fifty-five percent of the surveyed general election voters consider climate change a crisis or a very serious problem, and another 24% consider climate change a somewhat serious problem.

Most of the surveyed general election voters trust Democrats over Trump in addressing climate change, with 87% of Democrats, 54% of Independents, and 22% of Republicans trusting Democrats, and with fairly similar numbers trusting Democrats to move the country to clean energy sources.

Climate change and a clean energy economy rank as the fifth most important overall issue among Democratic primary voters, according to the surveys, with 71% of voters rating it that way, on par with “racism/racial justice” and not far below other issues, including “woman’s right to choose,” “stronger gun policies,” “universal health care,” and “wages/income for working families.”

“Climate change and moving to a clean energy economy is a top-tier issue for Democratic primary voters. They are going to demand to hear from Democratic candidates on this topic, they are going to insist that Democratic candidates have clear plans of how to move to a clean energy economy, and they are going to demand that those plans also follow the established science where climate change is concerned,” said Jill Normington, a partner with Normington Petts.

Strong Support for Differing Approaches to Climate Change

The surveys show that 79% of Democratic primary voters want a climate plan that is realistic and can actually be turned into law. They also consider it important that a plan meet other criteria, including transforming the U.S. economy with scope, scale, and speed to avoid the worst effects of climate change; meeting scientific recommendations to limit global warming to 1.5°C; creating millions of jobs; and ensuring that workers in the fossil fuel industry have meaningful work opportunities in clean energy. In addition, Democratic primary voters said that the plan should attract bipartisan support in Congress, prioritize pollution reductions first in communities with the worst air quality, and help a Democratic candidate defeat Trump.

Democratic primary voters voiced strong support in the surveys for several approaches that candidates might have for dealing with climate change and clean energy, including addressing climate change in time to avoid the worst effects (85% support), moving the country to 100% clean energy by 2030 or 2050 (83%), and moving from oil and gas to renewable energy (81%). The surveys found 56% favorability for the Green New Deal among Democratic primary voters but also found that 28% do not know what it is.

“Democratic primary voters are not insistent that there is only one approach” to dealing with climate change and moving toward a clean energy economy, Normington said. “It’s more about the goals of what a move to a clean energy economy will accomplish.”

Normington added that “it’s very clear that support for the Green New Deal is not a litmus test issue for the Democratic primary and caucus-going electorate as a whole.”

The surveys also show that 48% of Democratic primary voters already are feeling the effects of climate change and that another 42% are not yet feeling the effects but worry about climate change.

“The good news is that there has been a real shift on public concern” about climate change over the past several decades, said Navin Nayak, executive director of the CAP Action Fund. “The unfortunate news is [that] a lot of that concern is being driven by people feeling the real-world impacts in their own daily lives, and that creates a significant political vulnerability for Donald Trump and a real opportunity for Democrats.”

Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research, added about the surveys’ findings, “When President Trump and other Republican elected officials deny the very reality of climate change and also deny the need to address it, they are putting themselves very much at odds with the majority of general election voters.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Surveys say climate change is a top election issue for Democrats, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO127177. Published on 26 June 2019.
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