Climate Change: Americans Aren’t Worried, But Republicans Should Be

Climate change may not be the biggest concern for Americans — at least based on a March Gallup poll — but that doesn’t mean it won’t pack a punch when it comes to political maneuverings. Specifically, Democrats could see some electoral advantages to their sudden focus on environmental issues in Congress.

Earlier this week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) began what turned into an all-night session over climate change, saying: “Climate change is real. It’s here.” He said that humoring those who shrug it off as though they “have a valid point” is wrong, the New York Times reports. Still, the extended, sleepless climate caucus will likely lead to nothing in the way of legislation. The Washington Post says that this focus could be predictive of the Democrats’ upcoming campaign strategy — not a bad one, judging by academic research that shows environmentally active Democrats have seen electoral advantages in recent times.

The efforts in the Monday caucus are more preparatory than seeking any concrete action. “It’s aimed toward the day when something more concrete can be legislated,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said to the New York Times. Others in his party have made efforts to speak on climate change during both House and Senate meetings, and have been actively meeting with lobbyists and environmental leaders, as well as with corporate representatives that have an interest in such policy changes.

In a Gallup poll measuring Americans’ ranking of national concerns, climate change doesn’t make much of dent: It’s one up from the last item on a list of fifteen — just under the “quality of the environment” and just above “Race relations,” which comes last. When asked how much they worry about the issue, 51 percent of those polled said they worry about climate change either “a little” or “not at all,” while a quarter said they worry a fair amount, and 24 percent said they worry about it a great deal.

Compared to the economy, which tops the list, less than half as many of those polled are greatly concerned with climate change. Fifty-nine percent worried about the economy a “great deal”; “Federal spending and the budget deficit” and “The availability and affordability of healthcare” came in at 58 percent and 57 percent of those polled worrying a great deal, respectively.

When Gallup examined how concern about the “quality of the environment” has changed over time, from 2001 until March, this year shows the lowest percentage of those that “worry a great deal,” at 31 percent. 2001 saw 42 percent, while 2007 showed the height of concern, at 43 percent.

In terms of partisan split over the issue, Democrats are unsurprisingly more concerned, with 45 percent saying they worry a great deal compared to 16 percent of Republicans who say the say the same. A similar split is seen on the issue of “climate change,” with 10 percent of Republicans saying they are concerned and 36 percent of Democrats saying the same.

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