Why trashing the EPA won't work in the 2012 presidential election

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We know that because Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted 10 surveys in early October for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the League of Women Voters of the US (LWV), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  A national survey of registered voters -– which included an oversampling of Latino women –- was supplemented by additional polls in nine battleground states:  Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia.

While Republicans were more open to candidates trashing the EPA and green initiatives in general, there was little evidence of receptivity to such attacks from other registered voters.  In fact, this divide is so strong that there is now a problem not just for the Republicans, but also the Obama White House.  

Consider these key findings from the 10 PPP surveys:
•    Nationwide, 70 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s decision to block the ozone pollution standard while only 30 percent approved.  Roughly eight out of 10 women (79 percent) overall and 71 percent of Latino women disapproved of Obama’s decision on ozone.
•    Nearly four out of five Americans (78 percent) want the EPA to hold corporate polluters accountable for what they release into the community.  Better than four out of five women (83 percent) and 80 percent of Latino women share this view.
•    Americans don’t buy the line from some in Congress that EPA safeguards are bad for jobs and the economy and they support stricter safeguards against the toxic chemicals released by power plants.   Roughly seven out of 10  Americans (69 percent) agree with health experts who support reducing toxic air pollution from industrial sources and oppose those in Congress who say they must overrule the EPA to protect jobs; three out of four women overall and 73 percent of Latino women agree with health experts.
•    And what about the situation “on the ground” in the key states likely to decide the 2012 election outcome?   Support for stronger pollution limits and opposition to blocking the EPA is strong among suburban women in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania:
•    79 percent of suburban women in Michigan, 76 percent in Ohio and 87 percent in Pennsylvania disagreed with Obama’s decision to block stronger smog standards.
•    78 percent of suburban women in Michigan, 78 percent in Ohio and 82 percent in Pennsylvania support reducing toxic air pollution from industrial sources and oppose those in Congress who say they must overrule the EPA to protect jobs.
 
Support for the EPA and stricter pollution limits is particularly strong among Latino women in key states. Asked whether they support the EPA’s work to hold polluters accountable, 80 percent of Latino women in California, 79 percent in Florida and 86 percent in New Mexico said yes.

And in more bad news for the EPA bashers: Independent voters also expressed strong support for the EPA’s mission and efforts to reduce pollution, and disagree with those who would block the EPA. More than three out of four (77 percent) support the EPA’s efforts to hold polluters accountable and 68 percent say the President should not have blocked stronger smog standards and that Congress should not block stronger limits on toxic air pollution.

The shorthand version of these findings is clear:  Attacks on clean air and the federal agency charged with protecting the environment and the health of Americans is an unpopular position with most Americans, including those in key 2012 battleground states.  Our poll findings provide more than ample evidence that assaults on the Clean Air Act and the EPA are likely to be perceived as decidedly extreme and well outside of the mainstream of the public’s thinking.  

This is how today’s (seemingly) winning issue becomes tomorrow’s albatross that can sink an unwary political candidate.

Tom Jensen is director of Public Policy Polling.

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