Republicans Want a Fight Over Energy and Climate? Bring it on

When Canadian wildfires recently sent dangerous and unhealthy clouds of smoke over large swaths of the country, a new round of articles made the case that this latest devastating and strange weather event was a result of climate change.

Scientists and those who believe in the science of climate change have been passionately arguing their position for so long they may not have noticed the ground has shifted.  Most Americans already agree climate change is a threat — even across party lines.  

As message strategists and pollsters, we have often advised clients that the most effective way to motivate voters is to talk about the disastrous impact climate change will have on the world we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. But our recent polling on climate attitudes makes it clear that voters also see climate change as a serious problem right now.  

Even before the recent apocalyptic scenes of New York and New Jersey’s blood red skies and air quality alerts causing school closures and other disruptions, seven in ten registered voters agreed with the statement: “With recent wildfires, drought, flooding, and storms, climate change is already having a serious impact on the country.”

Climate change has become personal, with slightly more than four out of ten registered voters agreeing with the statement: “I or my immediate family have been negatively impacted by strange weather.” One can only assume that number has risen after recent events.  

It’s a message Republicans don’t seem to have heard. With their new majority, congressional Republicans made the decision to pick a high-profile fight over energy and climate change right out of the gate with H.R. 1., their pro-fossil fuel energy bill. They proposed in their debt ceiling bill to roll back the clean energy components of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Republicans clearly think this is a winning political issue for them. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently circulated a memo signaling its intention to use votes against H.R. 1 to go after vulnerable Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) continue to blithely dismiss the threat of climate change. 

But Republicans are leading with their chin. Majorities of voters across the political spectrum —including Republicans — believe that climate change is a major problem and have an unfavorable view of lawmakers who deny that it is a threat. A huge majority want to see a shift toward clean energy. Most problematic for Republicans, the political swing voters who will decide the 2024 election are strongly pro-climate and clean energy.  

Our research also shows voters have little patience for leaders who brush off climate change or oppose clean energy — for example, that 63% of voters have an unfavorable view of lawmakers who deny that climate change is a threat. Among swing voters, these lawmakers’ favorability is underwater by a whopping 50 points. This tells us that voters are connecting their frustrations around climate to their political decisions. That’s not exactly great news for the Ron Johnsons of the world.

Not only is there a political price to pay for Republicans who hinder progress on climate, but there is also a political benefit for Democrats who do talk about their party’s accomplishments on this issue. Our research shows the IRA’s climate and clean energy provisions are very popular, with 63% supporting them and 27% opposing them. And after we simulate a balanced debate between the two parties’ approaches to energy, the swing voters who will decide the 2024 election prefer the Democrats’ approach by an overwhelming 26 points, even though they lean Republican on party identification by 14 points. Moreover, this debate causes voters to trust Democrats more on broader economic issues such as jobs and energy prices.  

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined the desperate need for strong climate action now and even indicated that this may be our last shot.

Meanwhile, since the IRA became law, clean energy companies have already announced new projects that will create more than 142,000 clean energy jobs, helping reinforce the argument that the clean energy transition will boost the economy (something voters already believed).

The policy case for Democrats to engage in this fight is clear. As recent polling tells us, now more than ever, the political case is just as strong. If this is a fight Republicans want to have at the ballot box, especially in difficult swing districts, Democrats should be more than happy to oblige.  

Source : The Hill


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