Poll Shows Climate Change an Election Issue

A new nationwide poll released recently shows that more than four in 10 of all Americans, and an even larger percentage of committed voters -- 44 percent of those who say they are absolutely certain to vote in the upcoming presidential election -- agree that if action is not taken to address global warming and climate change, the country's national security will be threatened by global instability. Almost two-thirds, 62 percent, of all U.S. adults believe it is important that the next President of the United States initiates strong action to address climate change soon after taking office.

The poll, commissioned by the nonpartisan Presidential Climate Action Project, was taken as the National Intelligence Council issued the first-ever National Intelligence Assessment on the link between global climate change and national security. In testimony before Congress on June 25, Thomas Fingar, Ph.D., council chair, reported that "global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years."

"This poll indicates that the American people are beginning to come to the same conclusion as the nation's intelligence community -- that climate change is not just an environmental issue," said Bill Becker, PCAP's executive director. "They're starting to acknowledge that global warming is a significant threat to our national security."

The poll was conducted by Harris Interactive® during the period of June 25 to 27. It is the second in an ongoing series commissioned by PCAP to directly measure American opinion on the urgency of presidential action on climate change.

The poll found that significant percentages of minority respondents -- 63 percent of Hispanics and 50 percent of African Americans -- believe that U.S. national security is at risk if no action is taken to address climate change. Male respondents 35 to 44 years old were the most likely age/gender segment to hold that view -- nearly half (48 percent) agreed.

Regionally, this belief in the threat of global warming/climate change to national security is strongest along the West Coast (45 percent) and in the Northeast (44 percent). However, nearly one-third of Americans (31 percent) remained neutral (neither agreeing nor disagreeing) with the premise that climate change is a threat to national security.

As the presidential race heats up into the summer months, Americans report increasing levels of awareness of each of the candidate's climate change/global warming policies. Currently, 35 percent of respondents believe that Sen. Obama offers the strongest policy on climate change.

Half as many respondents (17 percent) believe that McCain offers a stronger climate change policy.

Among those who say they are absolutely certain to vote, 42 percent believe that Obama has the strongest policy on climate change and 19 percent believe that McCain does.

While slightly over half (52 percent) of Americans now believe that one of the current presidential candidates offers the strongest climate change policy, there remains a clear opportunity for the candidates to clarify their positions and plans in the current race. Nearly half (48 percent) of the respondents indicated that they were uncertain about the candidates' climate change platforms, including 60 percent of women ages 35 to 44, who say they do not know which candidate has the stronger policy.

Perceptions of the candidate's climate action policies vary widely across ethnic segments: 53 percent of African American, 32 percent of Caucasian and 39 percent of Hispanic potential voters see Obama as offering the strongest climate change/global warming policy. Nineteen percent of both Hispanic and White voters see McCain as the candidate offering the strongest climate change/global warming policies, compared to only 3 percent of African Americans.

The importance of taking strong global warming/climate change action by the next President shows high levels of concern among middle and lower income Americans. Two of three (67 percent) of those with household incomes of $49,999 or below indicate that strong action to address climate change is important.

Respondents from the West Coast remain the most likely to ascribe a higher level of importance to the urgency question. More than two-thirds (69 percent) consider strong action important, while 46 percent consider it extremely or very important. Women are more likely to believe it is important that the next President takes strong action to address climate change (67 percent versus 57 percent of men). Younger voters from Generations Y and X (ages 18 to 34) are particularly likely to believe that strong action is extremely or very important (43 percent).

However, nearly half (49 percent) of White voters, followed by 44 percent of African American voters and 41 percent of Hispanic voters don't know which candidate offers the strongest policy.

The Presidential Climate Action Project is a non-profit initiative of the Wirth Chair at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. In December of 2007 the project issued a preliminary report that includes more than 300 proposals for changes in climate-related federal policies and programs for the next President to undertake in the first 100 days after inauguration. The full text of the report can be accessed at www.climateactionproject.com

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Presidential Climate Action Project from June 25 to 27, 2008 among 2,175 U.S. adults (aged 18+). No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

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