It appears the debate on clean energy policies and climate change is shifting for Republican voters, according to an interesting new survey run by several conservative polling firms. The poll comes in the midst of a 2016 campaign that has seen energy and climate topics focus prominently at town hall forums and debates.

Addressing climate change and clean energy on the campaign trail has become increasingly tricky for Republican presidential candidates this year. The political landscape has changed significantly since the years where conservatives could dismiss any concern on climate changes with a joke about Al Gore. Republicans have taken a mix of approaches. Lindsey Graham is the only halfway serious candidate that readily acknowledges climate change is a major problem, caused by humans. Jeb Bush released an energy plan last week, but it contained barely any measures on clean energy. And Chris Christie has expressed his belief that climate change is partially man-made, and has backed some renewable programs like ethanol, but has been hesitant on wind energy incentives.

Last week a group of conservative-leaning polling firms released a poll they conducted that tested opinions on a wide range of clean energy policies, potential messaging strategies and beliefs on climate change. ClearPath sponsored the survey, an organization founded by Jay Faison, a Republican entrepreneur hoping to push the Republican Party to find solutions on clean energy. Echelon Insights, North Star Opinion Research and Public Opinion Strategies worked together on the poll, and they were particularly interested in how conservative Republicans felt. The national live-interview telephone survey polled 1,200 voters, with an oversample of 500 Republican voters to dig deeper into their views.

They found strong and wide support for a host of clean energy initiatives among all groups of voters, including majority support from conservative Republicans. In a broad sense, 72% of Republican voters and 68% of conservative Republicans favored “accelerating the development and use of clean energy.”

They highlighted a couple notable findings on specific policies:

  • Rooftop solar and net metering scored well with conservative Republicans, with 87% backing the idea, including 62% who said they strongly support it.
  • 66% of conservative Republicans agreed that “where utilities have a monopoly on providing power to consumers, they should be required to have clean energy as one of the sources of power they generate.”
  • Increasing government funding for research into clean energy technology gets support from 71% of voters overall, and 58% of conservative Republicans.
  • Smaller majorities of conservative Republicans even back carbon fees and tax incentives (54% to 41%) and nuclear energy (57% to 35%).

On the topic of climate change itself, voters signaled overwhelmingly that they believe it is real and caused in large or some part by human activity (45% said human activity is contributing a lot, 28% say it’s probably contributing a little to the change). Among conservative Republicans, the findings were more mixed, but there significantly were very few climate deniers left. Only 9% of conservative Republicans said the climate is not changing at all, while 32% said it’s changing simply as a part of a natural cycle. Most were in a sort of middle ground, where they think the climate is changing, mankind probably has something to do with it, but perhaps they’re unsure on how much action needs to be taken.

“Whats fascinating is in that last presidential debate you kind of saw that same answer being given by these candidates,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson of Echelon Insights in discussing the poll on the podcast The Pollsters this week. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘the climate’s not changing, I reject the premise of your question.’ Instead they were focused on, ‘well I don’t like the Democrats’ agenda on climate.'”

“It seems like maybe in the Republican field we have moved to a place where dismissing climate change and saying, ‘it’s not happening,’ is not the answer,” Anderson added. “Doesn’t mean they’re supporting Obama’s EPA policies, but the debate has changed.”

Obviously a large part of the problem for progress on clean energy has been the politicization of the climate change topic in recent years. So the pollsters also looked at what types of messaging might move hesitant Republican voters, as they appear to support many of the underlying policies. They found the strongest messaging frames for discussing clean energy were “less pollution,” “more innovation,” and “greater independence.”

In testing specific messaging as reasons to support clean energy investments, they found the highest support from conservative Republicans with these messages:

  • 80% of conservative Republicans agreed with “We should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that America can have cleaner, healthier air and less pollution at home.”

  • 77% of conservative Republicans agreed with “We should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that American innovation can create economic growth and jobs at home.”

  • 79% of conservative Republicans agreed with “We should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that America is less dependent on energy from the Middle East.

The pollsters then tested various messages against standard Democratic ones that focus on the climate change issue.

“The most successful counters to the left’s climate change message was not a message that dismissed the importance of climate or suggested there’s no reason to focus on the issue; instead, the most successful contrasts depoliticized climate and emphasized the other benefits of clean energy,” the pollsters noted in their polling memo.

You can read the full findings of the poll at ClearPath’s website.

 

by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/5/15

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