The economy seems to be the central issue of this year’s presidential contest, but a new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication suggests that global warming could be a hotter topic than anticipated. Researcher Geoffrey Feinberg discusses the findings and suggests how the candidates might win over those crucial undecided voters.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston, this is Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The economy may be the most important issue this election season, but global warming could be a hotter topic than expected. A new poll out from Yale University finds that a broad majority of undecided likely voters – as well as Obama-leaning voters – view climate change as real and want Washington to do more to address it. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conducted the survey this summer and co-author Geoffrey Feinberg explained the results.
FEINBERG: The findings that we're going to talk about today we released because we thought in the run-up to the election people would be interested in how undecided likely voters think about climate change. What we do is look at a number of different variables that help us predict propensity to vote, such as, you know, for example, are you registered, we only look at people who say they're likely to vote, people who know where to vote, those kinds of things all go into the mix to help us look at people we think are particularly likely to vote.
CURWOOD: Now, how big was your sample?
FEINBERG: We talked to a total of about 1100 Americans and about 700 of them we're defining as likely voters.
CURWOOD: And 7% of the likely voters were undecided?
FEINBERG: That's our estimate, yes. And don't lean toward one or the other candidates.
CURWOOD: What are the views of those likely undecided voters in terms of climate?
FEINBERG: These likely undecided voters look an awful lot like likely Obama voters. Virtually all of them believe global warming is happening. 80% of them, 8 in 10, compared to Obama voters, 86% of them believe that it's happening. And this is in contrast to likely Romney voters. Fewer than half of them believe that global warming is happening, only 45%, and actually one in three of them think it's not happening.
CURWOOD: How many of these undecided voters say that a presidential candidate's position on global warming will be one of several factors determining how they might cast their votes?
FEINBERG: Over half. What we see is that not many say that global warming is the key issue for them, only about one in 20. However, over half, about six in ten, say that it is among the important issues that will help them decide their vote.
CURWOOD: What proportion of them believe that global warming is caused by anthropogenic, that is, human, activity?
FEINBERG: Actually, the majority do. And again, they look very much like Obama voters and very different from likely Romney voters. Two in three believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, and only about one in five believe that it's caused mostly by natural changes in the environment, and that's virtually the same as Obama voters. Likely Romney voters, however, look very different. There only one in five think that if global warming is happening, it's caused by human activities and half of likely Romney voters think it's caused by natural changes in the environment.
CURWOOD: What about these undecided voters and their attitudes about the story from science? How many of them agree that science says global warming is real?
FEINBERG: I'll just state at the outset that there is, in fact, a virtual consensus among climate scientists that global warming is happening and there have been a number of academic papers which document this. And two in three Obama voters understand that. Relatively few Romney voters, 22%, believe that there is a consensus and in fact the majority of Romney voters, over half, 57%, think there's a lot of confusion and debate among scientists as to whether or not global warming is happening.
Now, the undecideds fall between the two. A little fewer than half, 46% of the undecideds, think that most scientists think global warming is happening and about the same amount, about 42%, think there's a lot of disagreement.
CURWOOD: Based on your polling data, how would you advise the candidates to handle themselves on climate in the upcoming debate?
FEINBERG: Both candidates want to win over these undecideds. And so I think Mr. Obama might do well to reiterate that he believes global warming is happening, that it's not a hoax, he believes it's human-caused and that we need to find solutions to solve the problem.
Now, Mr. Romney is in a tougher spot because a number of his base either doesn't believe it's happening or doesn't think it's human-caused so I suppose if I were Mr. Romney what I would say is that: look, this is something that needs to be taken very seriously, it's something that Democrats and Republicans need to work on carefully together to ensure that the science is good, to ensure that solutions are good, and that if in fact it is happening, that we need a free market approach to solve the problem. I think that might help him with his base and with undecideds. But, you know, no one's paying me the big bucks to be an advisor to one of these guys, so take that for what it's worth.
CURWOOD: Geoff Feinberg is research director at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Thank you so much, Geoff!
FEINBERG: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having us!
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