Public opinion on a national scale does not always mirror what people think in individual states and communities. Certainly with an issue like global warming, there is a potential that people in different states might view the topic through different prisms.
Geography, agricultural and energy profiles, economic situations that could be affected by climate-change policies — all could have an impact on how people in different areas think about the subject. Coastal states that experience destructive king tides or changing patterns of shark migration might have different opinions than states whose economies rely on coal. To what extent do such differences actually affect public opinion when it comes to opinions about global warming?
In July 2010, the design from Study 6, using hypothetical candidates, was employed in Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts to obtain state-level data. These surveys sought to learn if candidates’ views on global warming influenced the way people voted in those states.
As in the national opinion survey, people in the three states were more likely to vote for a candidate stating a belief in global warming and its human causes. The tendency, as might be expected, was especially true for people who attached high importance to the issue of global warming or believed in global warming.
Respondents in the three states heard position statements from hypothetical candidates. The respondents were randomly assigned to one of two experiences:
- Hearing the interviewers reading hypothetical candidates’ issue positions on two non-climate issues. This was the control group.
- Hearing the interviewers reading hypothetical candidates’ issue positions on two non-climate issues, and also one ‘green’ statement on global warming.
The “green” statement:
“Like most Americans and most of the residents of our great state, I believe that global warming has been happening for the last 100 years, mainly because we have been burning fossil fuels and putting out greenhouse gasses. Now is the time for us to stop this by ending our dependence on imported oil and coal to run our cars and heat our houses. We need to begin using new forms of energy that are made in America and will be renewable forever. We can build better cars that use less gasoline. We can build better appliances that use less electricity. And we can make power from the sun and from wind. We don’t have to change our lifestyles, but we do need to reshape the way our country does business. We need to end our long-term addiction to polluting the environment and instead let American genius do what it does best – transform our outdated ways of generating energy into new ones that create jobs and entire industries, and stop the damage we’ve been doing to the environment.”
Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the position expressed in each statement. After hearing all the statements, they reported how likely they were to vote for or against the candidate linked to each viewpoint.
Respondents in Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts were significantly more likely to vote for a candidate who made a green statement (see the figures below). 73% of respondents in Florida said they would vote for the candidate when the candidate made a green statement on the issue of global warming, while 49% said so when they did not hear the candidate taking any position on global warming. Likewise, a candidate’s taking a green stance on global warming gained votes among respondents in Maine with an increase from 64% to 71% as well as among respondents in Massachusetts with an increase from 67% to 77%.
Democrats and Independents in Florida, Maine and Massachusetts were most pronounced in this trend (see the figures below). The green statement reduced the likelihood of Republicans voting for the hypothetical candidate, but not significantly so.
The interviews were conducted by Abt SRBI between July 9 and 18, 2010. In each state, approximately 400 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and approximately 200 were interviewed on a cell phone. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.