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GOP should catch up with constituents

With Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) working overtime to convince America that the GOP is the vanguard of the Flat Earth Society, it is worth recognizing that Republican voters are far ahead of their elected officials, who are in danger of losing support as a result of embracing a Luddite position on global warming.

 In December — long before Al Gore’s Oscar and the latest consensus scientific report — we surveyed 400 New Hampshire Republican primary voters for Clear the Air and Clean Air-Cool Planet and found them surprisingly enlightened, despite their conservative orientation. Unlike their leaders, Republican voters are concerned about the dangers posed by global warming and endorse immediate action to curb the carbon pollution that causes it.   

Nearly eight in 10 Republican primary voters in New Hampshire believe global warming is a reality that is either happening now or will happen in the future. A solid 56 percent majority see global warming already occurring, while an additional 23 percent believe it will happen in the future. Just 14 percent think global warming will not happen.

A 70 percent supermajority of Republican primary voters believe global warming constitutes a serious threat today, with just 28 percent coming anywhere close to Barton and Inhofe and labeling the threat either “not too serious” or “not serious at all.”

Support for U.S. action to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming is remarkably broad and deep among New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters. Seventy-five percent say they favor such action; 56 percent “strongly” favor U.S. action. Just 15 percent oppose action to reduce global warming emissions.

Among GOPers who attend meet-the-presidential-candidate events, demand for concrete action is even stronger, with 80 percent in favor of action to reduce global warming emissions. 

Moreover, this issue is of central concern to Republican primary voters. Nearly all (82 percent) say it is important to them that the U.S. take action to reduce the emissions that cause global warming.

Our survey went further than just soliciting views on the issue, examining the potential electoral impact of global warming by measuring voters’ reactions to statements about the issue actually made by political figures. Respondents were asked whether such statements made them more or less likely to vote for the candidate who made the statement, or had no impact — without identifying the source of the statement. 

Perhaps most strikingly, Newt Gingrich’s argument against the reality of global warming elicited extremely negative reactions from his fellow Republicans. When confronted with the former Speaker’s statement that “There’s no evidence to support global warming — none. It’s essentially cultural anthropology,” nearly half said it made them less likely to vote for the candidate who uttered it, including 34 percent who said it made them much less likely to vote for that candidate.

By contrast, the most compelling statements all carried clear calls to action. For example, 65 percent of GOP primary voters said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who said, “The Global Warming Plan I introduced in my state reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 ...”

In New Hampshire, 153 town meetings have passed resolutions calling for controls on the emissions that cause global warming; in 125 of those towns, Republicans outnumber Democrats.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) has consistently voted against efforts to curb global warming, including opposing a Senate resolution quite similar to that adopted by his constituents. Sununu, and his fellow Republicans, continue their know-nothing crusade against action to reduce the threat of global warming at their political peril.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.