The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Shock poll: Even red staters want to save planet

Republicans are reacting gleefully today to the announcement of new EPA rules curbing carbon emissions at existing power plants, certain (as always) that anything they can portray as Obummer Job Crushing Energy-Tax Hiking Big Gummint can only help hasten Dems’ doom.

But a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that “a lopsided and bipartisan majority of Americans support federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions,” and not only that, “most are willing to stomach a higher energy bill to pay for it.”

Wait, but what about in red states, where the battle for the Senate will play out?

It turns out that even in red states, support for federal curbs on greenhouse gas emissions is almost as widespread as among Americans overall. According to data that the Post polling team sent my way, there just isn’t any significant difference between red and blue state residents on this issue:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.

*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.

* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.

* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.

On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states, as the Post’s Scott Clement and Peyton Craighill detail:

Americans living in coal-heavy states are supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the poll, even as their states will be forced to make bigger adjustments to meet the EPA’s new emissions targets. Among those in states where a majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, 69 percent say the government should place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Support is a similar 71 percent in states where less than half of electricity comes from coal.

Of course, Democrats in tough races may not place much stock in these numbers. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes rushed out a statement denouncing the new EPA rule as “more proof that Washington isn’t working for Kentucky,” and vowing to “fiercely oppose the President’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry.”

As I detailed here the other day, Dem operatives expect at least some vulnerable and red state Dems to use this as an occasion to distance themselves from the President. (Some may yet surprise us.) After all, Republicans will be using the EPA rules to bolster a broader case — one that also leans on the unpopularity of the health law — about Obama government mandates and regulations smothering the recovery. Given Obama’s unpopularity, and widespread economic pessimism about a comeback that remains sluggish after six years of the president’s policies, it’s understandable why Dems might worry that they are vulnerable to that broader argument, even if the polling looks good on regulating carbon itself.

Still, numbers like the above do also suggest, as Dem operatives also believe, that the political downsides of the EPA rules for Dems may be overstated. And they make you wonder what might happen if Dems even on tough turf proceeded from the premise advanced by Chris Van Hollen, i.e., that they might be able to win an actual argument on this issue if they forcefully engage it.