Mitt Romney’s confession several weeks back that he believes humans contribute to global warming led some pundits to prophesize doom for his presidential prospects. For Rush Limbaugh, it was “bye bye nomination.” Indeed, almost the entire Republican field seems to have concluded that the only viable political option is to sneer at climate change science, previous statements to the contrary be damned.
But according to a new study (PDF) out of Stanford, Romney might just be onto something. Not only do Americans overwhelmingly believe that addressing global warming should be a federal government priority, candidates risk alienating voters more when they deny climate change than when they take a green position on the issue.
For the study, researchers polled potential voters’ likelihood of supporting a hypothetical Senate candidate based on a series of policy-related quotes attributed to him or her. In some calls, one of the quotes attributed to the “candidate” indicated a green position on climate change (belief in global warming, support for investments in renewable energy). In others, the candidate was attributed a non-green position (“climate science is junk science,” “cap and trade is a job killer”). In still others, the topic was never mentioned.
Unsurprisingly, candidates with green positions fared best among Democrats, with 74 percent indicating they would definitely or probably vote for them versus 53 percent for “silent” candidates and 37 percent for not-green candidates. Among Independents the breakdown was 79/63/44, and among Republicans, 78/83/76. In other words, Republicans were slightly more likely to support a candidate with a green position than one with a non-green position, although the difference between all three Republican numbers is statistically insignificant.
All of this bodes well for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor, viewed so warily by conservatives, continues to hold a commanding lead in the polls without having to—at least in this case—tether himself to the rightmost fringes of his party. Others might consider following his lead.