Over the last week or so, some House Republicans have made it clear that they want to “do something” about climate change. That is both bad and not surprising news.
In a world in which millions of people worldwide die from a pandemic, and hundreds die from blackouts in the world’s richest nation, it’s tough to imagine that too many people spend their days worrying a lot about global warming.
But that is exactly the nonsense that some — including an unfortunately large chunk of Republicans — are trying to sell partly to play to corporate donors.
Unfortunately for these people, opinion research tells us that voters don’t prioritize global warming at all.
Global warming is at or near the top of approximately no one’s priority list. MWR Strategies has been starting surveys for years by asking people: “What is the most/second most important or pressing issue facing the United States?” In 10 years of asking those questions, never have more than 4% of registered (or likely) voters in any single survey identified the environment as one of their top two issues, and a more typical response is just 1% or 2%.
Fewer than that have identified climate change as the most important or second most important or pressing issue — usually as few as four or five respondents out of more than 1,000. Even when presented with a list of specifics that includes “global warming” or “climate change,” the issue routinely finishes last among the concerns of survey respondents.
In a particularly entertaining and informative example, between January and July 2018, Gallup asked more than 1,000 adults in each of six surveys to identify their most important issue. As best as we can tell from the reported results, not a single respondent out of more than 6,000 respondents said climate change.
Even when we ask about priorities within the narrow topic of the environment, global warming has never been identified as the most pressing environmental issue by more than a third of respondents in any of our surveys.
Opinion research data also tells us that voters don’t want to pay for global warming “solutions.”
When asked how much they are willing to pay each year to address global warming/to reduce global average temperatures /to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, the median response has ranged from $2 to $50. The percentage of respondents who say “zero” or “nothing” is consistently around 40%.
That’s even before questions are raised about increasing the size and reach of government, the efficiency of those expenditures, or who can be trusted to make decisions about what to do with the money.
What else does opinion research tell us?
It tells us that voters are a lot more concerned about energy than they were last year. In March, 73% of respondents told Gallup that they worried about the availability and affordability of energy a great deal or a “fair amount.” That’s a 19-point jump since last year, the biggest increase in 15 years.
Finally, what do experience and common sense tell us?
About a month ago in these pages, the editorial team noted that President Biden’s sort-of infrastructure plan would cost about $1 million per job. A few weeks ago, that same team noted that the plan as proposed would require American households, on average, to pay about $1,400 a year to address climate change.
That seems like a lot, especially when it is clear that most voters would be willing to pay somewhere closer to $50 a year.
Republicans should focus on the price tag of $1million per job. Or on the price tag of $1,400 per household per year to address global warming. Instead, House Republicans are talking about trees.
Rather than wasting time pretending that voters really want to pay thousands of dollars to address global warming, the Republicans should think about focusing on what voters actually care about — affordable and reliable energy.
The recent blackouts in Texas and California left hundreds dead and millions economically damaged and gave voters a keen sense of the fragility of our electric system, thanks in part to those who maximized reliance on intermittent generation sources such as wind and solar.
That gives Republicans an opportunity to talk about how energy is a good thing, and only the profoundly unwise try to make it more expensive.
By focusing on climate change, the Republicans are conceding the legitimacy of the issue and the deranged amount of attention paid to it by the Biden administration.
Maybe Republican leadership has some grand plan. More likely, this is all about trying to appeal to the very corporations that are waging war against election integrity and who would like to see the Republicans destroyed.
If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants to remain minority leader and have lots of corporate donors, that’s his business. Everyone else should prefer affordable energy, clear policy distinctions and distance from increasingly erratic corporations.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.