Will Climate Change Be a Decisive Issue in 2016 Presidential Elections?

New survey shows most Americans want government to act
January 30, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

Anyone thinking of running for president in 2016 should take note: in a new survey conducted by Stanford University, the New York Times, and research organization Resources For The Future, 66 percent of Americans said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who promises to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in alternative energy.

The sample survey was conducted by telephone, where pollsters asked 1,006 adults a series of questions about their views on climate change; how they felt about president Barack Obama’s policies; and how they’d vote for three hypothetical future Congressional or presidential candidates, each representing different stances on the issue.

Perhaps the more surprise finding was that among the Republicans surveyed, 48 percent said they were more likely to vote for the candidate who promises to tackle climate change. Many Republican politicians reject or question the concept of climate change: that the Earth’s temperature is rising due to greenhouse gases from human activity. Twelve percent said they were less likely to vote for the candidate.

For the hypothetical candidate who believes global warming is a hoax, and that the country should instead expand domestic energy production through coal mining and oil drilling, 13 percent were more likely to vote for the candidate, versus 67 percent who were less likely. The rest say the candidate’s stance on climate change wouldn’t have an effect on their votes.

Nearly 50 percent (48 percent) of Republicans said they are less likely to vote for the above candidate, while 78 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independent voters said they are less likely.

In the last 2012 presidential election, both Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney made little mention of the issue of climate change, though both agreed that global warming was something the government should address.

They barely tackled it during their three presidential debates—Romney briefly mentioned Obama’s green energy stimulus program in an attempt to highlight its failings (some journalists at the time noted Romney’s attack was exaggerated).

And while the green industry didn’t initially take off—the solar company Solyndra defaulting on the Department of Energy’s $535 million loan in 2011 being the most notorious example—Obama has made recent strides in committing the country to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In November last year, Obama announced that he reached a deal with China’s leader Xi Jinping for both countries to reduce their emissions. The United States will cut its emissions by 26 to 28 percent of its 2005 levels by the year 2025, while China promises to cap its emissions by 2030. China will also increase the share of its non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20 percent by that year.

In the poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that the federal government should curb emissions: (78 percent), versus 19 percent who don’t agree.

During a recent visit to India to meet with the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Obama used the opportunity to urge the country to take climate change seriously.

“[H]ere’s the truth: Even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if countries with soaring energy needs that are growing rapidly, like India,  don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change,” Obama said during a speech he gave in New Delhi.

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