Democrats at Risk of Global Warming Election Backlash

Published September 18, 2014

Recent polling numbers may induce Republicans on the November ballot to turn certain Democrats’ obsession with global warming into a Republican weapon, slamming Democrats for ignoring much more important issues.

Several Democratic politicians and funding groups are attempting to make global warming a key issue in the November elections even though the public considers global warming a very low priority. To date, Republicans in such elections have assumed a low-key approach, trusting the global warming attacks will not find much political traction. Recent polling numbers, however, may induce Republicans to be bolder on the issue.

Polling Shows Low Priority

In mid-August, Gallup asked more than 1,000 American adults the following open-ended question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” Gallup listed the top 12 responses, which accounted for 99 percent of the answers. Global warming did not make the list. If any of the 1,032 American adults answered global warming, the answer failed to reach even the 1 percent threshold.

In another poll released in late August, the Pew Research Center and USA Today presented more than 1,500 American adults with a list of nine potential threats to the United States and asked the respondents to indicate which ones they consider to be “major threats.” Global warming ranked dead last among Republicans and Independents, but first among Democrats.

Bucking Voter Sentiment

When Democrats and Republicans have strong differences of opinion on a particular issue, polling among independents typically offers clues regarding who should and will emphasize the issue. Given that independents side with Republicans on the relative unimportance of global warming claims, it would seem most likely Republicans would push the issue and Democrats would not. Nevertheless, moneyed interests and environmental extremists have convinced some Democrats to emphasize their unpopular global warming views in the current election cycle.

Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer—who ironically made his fortune by bankrolling coal projects—is spearheading a $100 million effort to produce and air campaign ads targeting Republicans who do not sign on to global warming alarmism. There has been little Republican pushback as yet, but the recent polling data appear to offer an opportunity to turn on its head the Democratic narrative that Republicans are out of touch on global warming.

Six years after the 2008 elections, the economy continues to be stuck in neutral, at best. Obamacare failed to deliver on its promises, and even most Democrats say it needs fixing. Gasoline and electricity prices have soared to all-time records. The Russian foreign relations “Reset” button appears to have been a cleverly disguised “Reconquer” button. The Middle East is an utter mess. Terrorism appears to be on the upswing again with the rapid emergence of ISIS. Iran continues on its path toward developing a nuclear weapon. Yet a hefty number of Democrats say the real issue on which American leaders should focus is global warming.

Key Races Targeted

Steyer is pulling out all the stops to assist incumbent U.S. Democratic Senators Mark Udall (Colorado) and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire). He is also pouring money into the Bruce Braley (Iowa) and Gary Peters (Michigan) election efforts. At the state level, Steyer is giving financial muscle to Charlie Crist’s attempt to make global warming a decisive issue in the Florida gubernatorial race.

At some point Cory Gardner in Colorado and Scott Brown in New Hampshire may sense an advantage in asking, “What the heck are Mark Udall and Jeanne Shaheen doing spending so much time, money, and attention on global warming while they ignore or have screwed up the national economy, healthcare, energy prices, and foreign policy?”

The Joni Ernst campaign or a pro-Ernst political action committee could produce a very powerful campaign ad saying, “Bruce Braley seeks election to the Senate because he thinks global warming is our most pressing concern. Joni Ernst seeks to revive the economy and restore American power and respect around the world.”

The polling numbers are clear and compelling in suggesting Republicans should fire back against certain Democrats’ global warming obsession. Charlie Crist, Gary Peters, and other global warming Democrats should be very worried.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute.