2010 Election Survey: Tea Party, Independent Voters Differ Significantly on Climate and Clean Energy Issues

Conventional Wisdom That Two Groups Are Closely Aligned in Climate/Clean Energy is Wrong; "Proposition 23 Effect"?  Post-Election Potential Seen For Progress by Focusing on Concrete Water and Air Harms, Rather Than Debating Abstract Climate Science.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Candidates in 2010 who assume that Tea Party supporters and Independents will respond to the same messages on climate and clean energy issues appear to be mistaken, according to a major new survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI).  Further, while the views of Americans on climate science issues are now divided sharply along partisan lines, there remains strong support for "concrete" action focused on protecting clean air and clean water.

Key findings include the following:

  • 2 percent of Americans say they are "an active member of the Tea Party movement," 23 percent support the Tea Party, 36 percent have no view about the Tea Party, and 28 percent oppose the Tea Party.
  • Independents are more than twice as likely as Tea Party supporters (62 percent versus 27 percent) to see global warming as a problem in need of a solution, compared  to 39 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats. Overall, more than three out of five Americans agree that "(g)lobal warming and climate change are already a big problem and we should be leading the world in solutions," compared to about a quarter (27 percent) who think "(g)lobal warming may or may not be happening.  We should let other countries act first while the science sorts itself out." 
  • Tea Party supporters are more than twice as likely as Independents (34 percent versus 15 percent) to see no need for leadership on global warming, compared to 29 percent of Republicans and   8 percent of Democrats. Overall, only 17 percent of Americans see no need for "national OR grassroots leadership on global warming."  Another 12 percent think no federal leadership on energy policy is needed "since some grassroots officials are taking actions," compared to 61  percent who think "(w)e need leadership on energy policy from  Washington, D.C., because it is a national problem  that will require national solutions."
  • However, the partisan divide is far less sharp when the discussion turns to specifics.   Just over three out of four (76 percent) Americans think that -- when it comes to energy sources, such as natural gas, coal, tar sands, nuclear and biofuels, requiring a high amount of water for production purposes -- "(w)ater shortages and clean drinking water are real concerns.  America should put the emphasis on first developing new energy sources that require the least water and have minimal water pollution."  Only 13 percent agreed with this statement:  "Energy supply needs should override concerns about  water shortages and water pollution. America should proceed first with developing energy sources even if they may have significant water pollution and water shortage downsides." Supporters of putting the primary emphasis on clean water include 68 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, 81 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Tea Party supporters.

Pam Solo, founder and president, Civil Society Institute, said:   "This might be thought of as the 'Proposition 23 effect.'  When the dynamics of that California ballot measure focused on the abstractions of climate science, the measure enjoyed more success.   When the debate shifted to discussion of clean energy jobs, clean air and water, and other more concrete benefits of the California law, the momentum started swinging against Proposition 23.    What we see in this survey is a high level of political polarization over the 'old' climate/clean energy debate about climate science as an abstract concept.   However, there is much that unites all political groups on clean energy.  Initiatives that address concrete air and water harms that can be either averted now or avoided in the future would be embraced by a large majority without regard to political party."

Opinion Research Corporation Senior Researcher Graham Hueber, said:    "These findings point to a greater diversity of views among Tea Party supporters and Independents than is widely assumed to be the case, and this has major implications for the 2010 elections and future elections.   What we are seeing here is a common mistake with which pollsters are all too familiar:  the tendency on the part of the media and others to simplify the story by lumping together groups rather than being careful to parse out the specific points on which they actually differ and sometimes quite dramatically so."

Important note:  The Civil Society Institute is the sole sponsor of this 100 percent independent survey, which is not being financed by or released in support of any energy company, environmental group, political candidate, political party, or allied interest group.  CSI has released more than 25 national and state-specific surveys and reports since 2003 on a wide range of energy and climate issues.  CSI does not endorse candidates.

OTHER KEY SURVEY FINDINGS

  • 71 percent of Americans – including 70 percent of Independents, just 55 percent of Tea Party supporters, 63 percent of Republicans, and 80 percent of Democrats -- agree that "the U.S. needs to be a clean energy jobs and technology leader and it should take action even if other nations are not taking action. This compares to only 17 percent of Americans who think "the U.S. is already behind in clean energy jobs and technology and should let other nations continue to take the lead in this area."
  • Only 42 percent of Tea Party supporters, but 75 percent of Independents, agree with the following statement:  "Smarter energy choices are the key to creating new jobs and a future that is healthy and safe because fossil fuels mean toxic wastes that are a threat to our health and safety."  That compares to 72 percent of all respondents, 58 percent of Republicans, and 82 percent of Democrats.
  • Over half of all Americans (56 percent) – including 61 percent of Independents, but only 31 percent of Tea Party backers -- favor the use of "federal dollars to either directly support or to guarantee loans for the development of energy sources" -- if the energy in question is "renewable energy, such as wind and solar."  Fewer than one in four  (23 percent) would pick nuclear for such support, compared to only 5 percent for coal, and 8 percent would favor no such support being provided. Supporters of backing for renewable energy include 42 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats.
  • Three out of four Americans – including 78 percent of Independents, but only 55 percent of Tea Party backers -- agree with the following statement:  "A sound energy policy is central to solving some of the most urgent problems facing our country. An energy policy that promotes clean power would encourage innovation, create new jobs and make for a stronger economy. It also allows the U.S. to disentangle itself from unstable and hostile regions of the world while also reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions."  Supporters of this view include 65 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats.
  • 79 percent of Americans – including 86 percent of Independents, but barely half (52 percent) of Tea Party backers -- think "it is time for the leaders of our nation to start thinking in terms of the concept of a 'new industrial revolution,' one that is characterized by the orderly phasing out of fossil fuels and the phasing in of clean, renewable energy sources -- many of which are available now, such as wind and solar for electricity and hybrid and clean diesel technologies for cars." Supporters of this view include 65 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats.
  • 74 percent of Americans – including the same level of Independents, but fewer than half (47 percent) of Tea Party supporters -- agree that "(a) national energy strategy based on a 'phasing in' of new technologies and a phasing out of carbon based energy sources would require specific actions. America should commit to a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired plants and, instead, focus on aggressive expansion of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Tax and other incentives should be provided for all new construction to help reduce energy consumption. Homeowners should get incentives to make their homes more energy efficient to help reduce energy demands." Supporters of this view include 56 percent of Republicans and  87 percent of Democrats.
  • 75 percent of Americans – including three out of four Independents, but barely half (53 percent) of Tea Party supporters -- agree with the following statement: "The effects of our energy choices require that we take timely and decisive steps for renewable, safe and clean energy sources. We need transitional technologies on our path to energy independence. There are tough choices to be made and tradeoffs. We cannot afford to postpone decisions since there are no perfect options." Supporters of this view include 63 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats.
  • Over half of Americans (68 percent) see the U.S. as weak or very weak on "practical, problem-solving solutions" and leadership in relation to "energy independence and dealing with climate change or global warming."  This view is fairly consistent among Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Tea Party supporters.
  • More than seven out of 10 Americans (71 percent) have only a "small degree" of (49 percent) or "no" (22 percent) confidence that "our current elected officials in the United States will act decisively on energy issues.  Just 6 percent say that that have a "very high" degree of confidence on that point. Those with little or no confidence include 82 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, 62 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Tea Party supporters.
  • While seven times as many Americans (21 percent versus 3 percent) think that "the most urgent concern today" is "(p)rotecting our drinking water from chemicals used in drilling for natural gas and from the wastes generated from burning coal" over "(a)ddressing climate change and its impacts," about two thirds (65 percent) think these are "major issues of roughly equal importance."  Those who see these as roughly equal issues include 49 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Independents, 76 percent of Democrats and only 41 percent of Tea Party supporters.
  • 37 percent of respondents were Independents, 34 percent Democrats  and 21 percent Republicans, with 2 percent selecting another party.
  • More Americans think the U.S. is without  direction today (40 percent) rather than moving in the right direction (27 percent) or the wrong direction (28 percent).  Tea Party supporters (59 percent) and Republicans (48 percent) are much more likely to see the U.S. as headed in the wrong direction.
  • Which party is "most likely to take problem solving action over political self-interest?"  Only 12 percent of Americans say the Tea Party, compared to 11 percent for no party, 14 percent of Republicans, 24 percent for Independents and 28 percent for Democrats.
  • 87 percent of the total survey respondents indicated that they are likely to vote.

 Complete survey findings are available online at http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org.

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,011 adults comprising 508 men and 503 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States.  Interviewing for this CARAVAN® Survey was completed during the period October 8-11, 2010.  The most advanced probability sampling techniques are employed in the selection of households for telephone interviewing.  

Completed interviews are weighted by four variables:  age, sex, geographic region, and race, to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population, 18 years of age and older.   The margin of error for the full sample size is plus or minus 3 percent.

ABOUT CSI

Based in Newton, MA., the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org) is a think tank that serves as a catalyst for change by creating problem-solving interactions among people, and between communities, government and business that can help to improve society.   Since 2003, CSI has conducted more than 25 major national and state-level surveys and reports on energy and auto issues, including vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, consumer demand for hybrids/other highly-fuel efficient vehicles, global warming and renewable energy.  In addition to being a co-convener of CLEAN, the Civil Society Institute also is the parent organization of 40MPG.org (http://www.40MPG.org) and the Hybrid Owners of America (http://www.HybridOwnersofAmerica.org).  

EDITOR'S NOTE:   A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org as of 4:30 p.m. EDT on October 26, 2010.

SOURCE Civil Society Institute, Newton, MA



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