Current headlines and recent polling confirm climate change’s importance to a broad, bipartisan array of voters. And how Republicans choose to engage on this issue will likely influence election outcomes in the near term, not just the distant future.
This is a powerful issue. Look no further than the critical media attention given to presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio for allegedly denying climate change’s existence, or to the widespread praise showered on Senator Kelly Ayotte for her support of an energy conservation bill. Clearly, voters are looking for solutions to this – one of our country’s most seemingly intractable problems.
We can only expect the debate to intensify as we rapidly approach the 2016 presidential election. Republicans must find a way to address the issue in a way that doesn’t alienate our base, but that also resonates with Americans of all political leanings, who look for practical, politically achievable solutions to a difficult problem.
As a Republican pollster, I can assure Republican candidates there is a middle road to take. The issue need not remain demagogued and balkanized. Polling I have done for the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) could provide Republicans with a roadmap to discuss climate change in terms that build consensus for responsible and feasible policy responses.
Indeed, many Republicans support action on climate change, though of course their support is contingent on the kind of action taken and the reasons behind it. Republican and independent voters respond strongly to economic and health related appeals to address climate change. A robust 79 percent of Republican voters believe creating a healthier future with cleaner air is an important reason to take on climate change. 86 percent of independents feel the same way. And we found similarly high levels of support for reducing air and water pollution to improve public health.
The majority of Republicans also recognize climate change’s impact on national security. 79 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independents believe addressing climate change can strengthen national security by making progress toward our energy independence. Additionally, 66 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of independents support addressing the issue to avoid the possibility the United States might need to fight a war to protect overseas oil supplies.
A report released by the Center for Naval Analysis’ (CNA) military advisory board underscores the security threat climate change poses to Americans living today, not just generations to come, and the urgent necessity to address it.
Sixteen retired flag officers from all branches of the armed services endorsed the newly released CNA report that identifies dramatic climate change as “catalyst for conflict” in the world. The report lists domestic vulnerabilities that could impact our military preparedness, in addition to the effects of climate change that could destabilize Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and spur conflict over resources in the Arctic.
These military leaders are not alone. In fact, a strong 59 percent of Americans believe that global climate change is real. This includes 51 percent of Republicans who say the effects are already happening, or will happen shortly, or will occur within their lifetime. If Republicans insist on listening to those that believe we won’t see the effects of climate change for decades, we are setting ourselves up for a political and a policy mistake that will damage the party, and more importantly, the country.
The polling I’ve conducted has convinced me of the necessity for Republicans to address these real concerns about climate change in ways that reflect our principles and priorities and satisfy public demand for practical solutions. There is a free-market approach to addressing climate change, one that encourages incentives and research to spur energy development and economic growth, and Republicans need to promote it vigorously.
Most Americans don’t believe that we can save the environment by wrapping it up in red tape. Republicans believe there is a common sense middle ground between excessive, job killing regulation and doing nothing. Interestingly, 70 percent of Republicans believe a politician can be both pro-environment and pro-limited government at the same time.
Like its impact on the environment, the political implications of the climate change debate are real, and aren’t going away without addressing them substantively. It’s in the nation’s best interests as well as the best interests of Republican candidates to propose practical policies to reduce climate change. Taking leadership of policies that protect the economic, security, environment and health interests of the American people, rather than just opposing the wrong policies, is central to our appeal as practical problem solvers and as patriots who believe that what’s good for our country is always good for Republicans.