Is it possible to make GOP lawmakers pay a political price for throwing in with the climate science deniers? The League of Conservation Voters is engaged in an interesting experiment designed to answer that question, running ads targeting GOP Senator Ron Johnson and a handful of House GOP lawmakers over their climate denialism.
The group’s operating theory: Denying what science says about threats to the fate of the planet should perhaps be, you know, a tiny bit politically problematic. GOP lawmakers pay a steep price for outsized claims about abortion or immigration. Why not about something as consequential as climate change?
Now the group has done a new poll that, it says, underscores that drawing attention to a public official’s climate science denialism does erode his or her public image. The group’s polling memo is right here. The group polled on Senator Johnson in the Green Bay, WI, media market — a swing area where its ads ran — before and after the ad buy. According to the memo:
52 percent of constituents who definitely recall the ads volunteer unfavorable impressions of Ron Johnson and his record in an open-ended (unprompted) question format, and most of the concerns they express relate directly to the content of the ads.
The memo also reports a 14-point increase in those who feel less favorable towards Johnson based on what they have heard about him; an eight point increase in his job disapproval; and an eight point boost in in constituents believing Johnson is out of step on climate change. (For more on Johnson, and the results the polling found on climate-denying House GOPers, read the whole memo.)
“Denying climate change science is something that, when you put it in front of voters, they stand up and take notice,” top Dem pollster Geoff Garin, who did the survey for the LCV, tells me. “We’re finding that when voters hear about an elected official denying basic climate science, it is consequential in the way they think about that person, both in terms of the issue itself, and in terms of larger conclusions voters draw about whether that official thinks the way they do.”
This poll, of course, was sponsored by an advocacy organization, so take that into account. Also note that these findings don’t tell us whether this would be an effective electoral issue against Johnson, who is not up until 2016. The LCV genuinely wants to gauge whether it’s possible to hold lawmakers accountable for climate denialism over the long haul, in a way that begins to impact public perceptions of them. “The question is, How much does this become another way in which people view their Member of Congress as out of touch and extreme?” Garin says. “The issue is important enough to change attitudes.”
The larger story here is that, even as the prospects for Congressional action on climate change remain bleak, some Dems, even in swing states, are increasingly seeing benefits in talking publicly about the issue. As Ronald Brownstein has detailed, climate change is one of a number of issues — including gay marriage, immigration, and gun control — that are prioritized by core Dem groups, such as young voters, minorities, and college educated whites. Dems are increasing embracing these priorities – even if so doing alienates the downscale, culturally conservative whites that are growing less important to Dem electoral success — to appeal to that “coalition of the ascendant,” and to cast the GOP as unable to move into the 21st century.
“This is really an experiment,” Garin says, “to understand the impact of the issue going forward.”