NewScientist September 25, 2012, by Peter Aldhous
More bad news for Mitt Romney: the Republican party's scepticism about climate change seems likely to play badly with voters who haven't yet decided who to back in November's US presidential election.
A new poll, run by Yale University and George Mason University in Virginia, has found that, when it comes to their views on climate change, "undecideds" look remarkably similar to supporters of Barack Obama.
Of the 1061 people polled, about three-quarters are judged likely to vote, based on their registration, stated intentions and past turnout. Among them, just 27 per cent of Romney backers believed global warming was human-caused, compared to 65 per cent of the Obama supporters.
Of the 87 undecideds who were likely voters in the sample, 65 per cent believed global warming was human-caused, and 61 per cent said the issue would help guide their vote.
Because the sample contained just 87 undecideds who were likely to vote, there is a large margin of error surrounding these numbers. Still, the difference between undecideds and Romney supporters was statistically significant.
"We'd have expected them to be somewhere in the middle," says Anthony Leiserowitz, who heads the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. "But we find they're very similar to likely Obama voters."
The results are broadly consistent with a study released in December 2011, in which a team led by Jon Krosnick of Stanford University in California presented statements by hypothetical political candidates, and asked people whether these candidates would win their support.
This suggested that Republicans, in particular, are likely to gain votes by taking "green" positions, and lose votes by expressing scepticism about climate change.
So why has the Republican party largely embraced climate scepticism? Krosnick speculates that it is due to the influence of wealthy donors who oppose action to limit climate change. Still, he doubts whether the votes gained through spending on campaign ads will counter those lost by taking a sceptical position.
While Romney has acknowledged that human activities are contributing to climate change, he cites “a lack of scientific consensus” on the issue, and in accepting the Republican nomination mocked Obama's efforts to “begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.”
Leiserowitz doesn't expect climate change to be a key issue in the election, but with the polls slipping away from Romney, the Republican candidate will need every vote he can get.
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