A researcher at Yale recently had an interesting article in the L.A. Times. In it, he suggested that “I’m not a scientist” disclaimers aren’t going to work with voters in 2016.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, global warming didn’t come up in any of the three debates between Mitt Romney and President Obama. That won’t be the case this campaign season, with wide swaths of America suffering through climate change-fueled record heat, rampant wildfires and historic droughts. Voters understand what’s happening, and they want the government to take action.
The question is, have Republicans gotten the message? Not quite.
In a poll conducted this spring by me and my colleagues at Yale and George Mason universities, 70% of Americans support placing strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions at existing coal-fired power plants. We also found that 75% of adults, including 63% of Republicans, support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And yet Republicans have been making the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan their latest punching bag.
The reluctance of GOP candidates to acknowledge–let alone embrace–the widely accepted scientific consensus is undoubtedly due to their need to pander to the party’s primary voters, base voters who are the most doctrinaire and conservative and most likely to deny the reality of climate change, and to the special interests that disproportionately provide their campaign funds.
This is the same dilemma the national party faces almost across the board: the party’s increasingly rabid base strongly rejects positions that are widely held among American voters generally. In order to win the affections of the base–in order to secure the nomination–a candidate must take positions that effectively poison his/her chances in the general.
In another Yale/George Mason poll conducted last year, we found that, overall, Americans are two times more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming, and three times more likely to vote against a political candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming. Only conservative Republicans are slightly more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.
And to add insult to injury, if the GOP hasn’t done enough to repel Latino voters, a recent poll by the New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future found that 95% of Latinos think the federal government should take at least some action to tackle climate change.
The real irony is this: while the more traditional candidates (I was going to say “credible” but I think that’s probably stretching it) swallow hard and disclaim belief in evolution and climate change, the primary voters insisting on these anti-science stances in return for their support are currently splitting their allegiances between an embarrassing and tasteless narcissist and a soft-spoken, albeit certifiably insane, theocrat–neither of whom has a clue what government is or how it operates.