Democratic voters want action on climate (we think)

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Polls are funny things. If you ask one group of randomly selected voters you get one answer. If you ask another group, you get a different answer. And we all know that an over-dependence on polls can provide a false sense that one knows the outcome of political races – as was established in November 2016.

That being said, some things have been abundantly clear. Americans love solar energy, and in poll after poll it comes out as our top energy choice. In fact, we like it so much that majorities in both parties are in favor of mandating solar on new construction, as California has done. Recent polling also found that requiring utilities to procure power from renewables is one of the most popular ways to address climate change – which may be related to 29 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico having a renewable energy mandate.

But what about climate change? For a long time voter concern about climate change has lagged other issues, such as the economy and national security. However, that may have just changed, at least for left-leaning voters.

A new poll released by CNN yesterday found that among 411 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents surveyed, climate change was the top issue they wanted to see action on. A full 82% responded that “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change” was very important, above even providing health insurance to all Americans.

This is the first poll seen to pv magazine to find such a response by voters in either party, and stands in stark contrast to a poll by Morning Consult, which found that “energy issues – like carbon emissions, cost of electricity/gasoline or renewables” was the least compelling issue for voters. And while this was seen as more important for Democratic voters, it was the top issue for only 8%, and came in a distant fifth.

These polls were conducted within weeks of each other, so what changed?

Well, maybe nothing. While many (but certainly not all) of us who work in renewable energy see our work directly within the context of addressing climate change, the focus of these two questions is distinct. And one is certainly more dramatic and action-oriented than the other.

Energy issues have never polled terribly highly, but there has been a groundswell of support for the Green New Deal, at least on the left, as a means to address both climate and economic issues.

So two things may be happening here. The first is that as time goes on, the American public – led by Democrats, particularly those living in the West and Northeast – is becoming more aware of the dire threat of climate change and prioritizes action. The second may be that if you want people to prioritize climate and energy issues, you need to talk about it in a way that speaks directly to the problem, engages other issues, and doesn’t bore them by wonking out.

Of course, we’re also likely to learn more in the next poll, which may again provide a different answer, one that seems to contradict what we think we know.