We’ve now had a 7-hour town hall on CNN, with each of the remaining 10 Democratic candidates for President talking not about whether climate change was real or not, but about their specific plans to deal with it. CleanTechnica has published assessments of Joe Biden’s (meh), Elizabeth Warren’s (wonky) and Andrew Yang’s (good on carbon fee, terrible on energy) plans, with upcoming articles on Kamala Harris’ (very good) and Bernie Sanders’ (certainly the most expensive) plans. We’ll be publishing an assessment of the merit and viability of the plans too.
But what about the Republicans?
While Donald Trump is on record with his climate change denial, that’s unlikely to stop him from doing whatever will win him another four years, including reversing his previous statements. But what about the rest of his campaign team?
In July, CleanTechnica published my opinion that the logjam of Republican denial was showing signs of breaking up. I cited three pieces of evidence.
The first was Monmouth University polling in late 2018 showed that the majority of Republican voters accepted that the climate was changing. The second was the existence of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bi-partisan group of congress members including, obviously, Republicans who not only accepted that the climate was changing, but also that humans were causing it and that a carbon tax was a good measure. The third was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina going on the record saying that Trump should accept that the climate is changing, that Republicans should move on from denial and that Republican solutions would obviously be better.
But more support for the thesis is becoming evident. Let’s explore this and the implications.
First, let’s take a look at 6 facts about U.S. political independents, from Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 15, 2019). There are three or four interesting things about this data. Let’s tease them apart.
The first is that both committed Republican and Democratic committed voters have declined somewhat, a bit more for the Republicans, and are now at 31% to 26% favoring Democratic party voters. The second is that Pew has found that Independents are, in a majority of cases, less uncommitted than it appears. They tend to vote for one party or the other, regardless of not being committed to it. The third is that Democratic-leaning Independents are larger in number than Republican-leaning Independents, 17% to 13%. Only about 7% of Independents actually are Independent.
The combination means that the Democratic Party is favored 48% to 39% in any given election right now, assuming everyone actually voted. If the Democratic Party could actually motivate voters to get to the polls and overcome voter suppression, they would completely dominate electorally.
And guess what? The same Monmouth polling from late 2018 found that 78% of Independents overall accepted that the climate has changing. 51% of Independents say that climate change is a “very serious problem.” It’s unstated in the Monmouth the poll what the split was for Independents specifically, but overall 17% of voters agreed that it was “serious,” compared to 54% of all voters who agreed it was “very serious.” That suggests that 67%-68% of Independents in general already consider climate action sufficiently important that it will become one of the issues that they consider when voting in 2020.
What else is important about Florida per the Monmouth polling?
“… coastal state residents (61%) are more likely than inland state residents (44%) to see climate change as a very serious problem.”
That voter suppression point is relevant, as The Guardian reported on a study which found 17 million voters had been removed from voter lists between 2016 and 2018. (I have personal context for US concerns as I was one of the leads of a major competitive proposal by a global technology company for automation of voter registration at polling stations for the upcoming Canadian federal election; our US subcontractor’s software had managed registration for 8 million voters in 2016 and undoubtedly more in the 2018 midterms.)
That 17 million is only 5% of the population, and while voter suppression overwhelmingly occurs on Black and Latino/Hispanic populations which tend to vote Democratic, it’s not 100%. Roughly 90% of Blacks and 70% of Latino/Hispanic voters vote Democratic, so voter suppression is statistically but not completely in favor of Republicans.
That 30% of Latino/Hispanic voters becomes interesting in this analysis. Back to Pew, specifically Religion and Science: Religion and Views on Climate and Energy Issues, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 22, 2015).
What’s important to understand about religious Hispanics and Latinos is that they are outliers in terms of acceptance of the science of global warming. They have a much stronger propensity to accept human causation than the majority of evangelicals.
And guess which state has a lot of Hispanics? Florida. 23% of Florida are Hispanic or Latino, compared to under 18% in the USA on average. No wonder GOP politicians are fighting to preserve voting suppression in Florida, and others are fighting to have it removed.
There’s one last piece of evidence regarding Florida, and it’s more Republican politicians and what they are saying. Here’s Representative Francis Rooney of Florida.
“I’m a conservative Republican and I believe climate change is real. It’s time for my fellow Republicans in Congress to stop treating this environmental threat as something abstract and political and recognize that it’s already affecting their constituents in their daily lives.”
And here’s Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, described by GQ as “the Trumpiest Congressman in Trump’s Washington”:
“I think history will judge very harshly those who are climate deniers.”
Yes, senior Republican politicians in Florida are out of the climate-change closet. They aren’t exactly marching in Climate Change Pride marches, but at least they are taking their colleagues to task for climate bashing.
Why is any of this relevant?
If Trump loses Florida, he loses the Presidency
We have multiple lines of evidence that indicate that Republicans need to win a lot of Independents to win the Presidency, that Independents are increasingly concerned about climate change, and that this is probably even more true in Florida than anywhere else.
And Presidents, barring hanging chads, have to win the 29 Electoral College votes in order to take the Presidency. This has been true for decades.
Florida, home of Trump’s Mar a Lago and its foreign workers, is in play for 2020 based on the issue of climate change. The election will be near the end of the 2019 hurricane season, and after the vicious 2017 season, the Hurricane Dorian scare of 2019, and whatever the rest of this hurricane season and most of next year’s chooses to hurl at the state.
If I were a Republican strategist, I’d be working hard to convince Trump and his campaign to accept climate change and find some way to counter the very strong showing that the Democratic Party is making on the issue. And if the Republicans don’t and lose Florida because of it, they’ll probably change their tune pretty quickly.
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