The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Climate change is more of a priority for voters than you might think

Political support comes in four (basic) levels.

There's indifference, which is how most people feel about most things. There's support, which is just a mopey, wouldn't-it-be-nice sort of attitude, perhaps accompanied by a tweet. There's the litmus test, which means that any possible candidate will be measured against the supporter's stance. And then there is the stop-the-presses, call-and-email-your-congressman, hang-on-I'm-making-t-shirts level of support, the sort of thing that makes people at least contemplate getting out a bar of soap to write a message on their back windshields.

For a long time, it's seemed as though most supporters of government action on climate change have fallen into the second tier, sending a tweet when asked, maybe, but not much further. Sure, Daryl Hannah is handcuffing herself to the White House, but that seems like a little much, no?

According to data from the new Washington Post / ABC News poll, supporters of government action are actually more likely to be in the litmus test realm. When it comes to 2016, a full 58 percent of registered voters say that they favor a candidate who will take action to fight climate change -- and 38 of all voters think that position is very or extremely important.

What's particularly interesting about this result is that opposition to government action is more likely to be of the mopey variety. More than half of those who oppose government action don't consider the issue to be as important.

As you'd expect, there is a partisan difference in these responses, but that partisan difference reflects the overall split on enthusiasm. Democrats fervently want a candidate who supports action on addressing the warming climate; Republicans more lackadaisically oppose it. Independents, meanwhile, look more like Democrats.

We've written before about the apparent political advantage for a candidate in backing action on climate change. This result backs that up. Almost three times as many people enthusiastically support a 2016 candidate who will back government action on climate change than adamantly oppose that idea.

It raises the question, though: Why hasn't Congress taken action on climate change, if that's what Americans are looking for? One answer is that this poll asked about attitudes on climate change with all other things being equal. Which, of course, isn't ever the case. The economy and other issues are consistently seen as more important to voters when they're actually in the polling booth.

Another possible answer? Stop-the-presses, call-your-Senator opponents of government action are closer in number to similarly motivated people on the opposite side of the issue. And as the 2013 debate over gun background checks shows, it's often that top tier of support that can make the difference.