Top GOP pollsters explain how to sell conservatives on one of the things they hate most

Climate change isn’t exactly a major issue for Republicans — only 10% of Republicans describe it as a top worry. And Republicans consistently rail against President Barack Obama’s energy proposals.

But a new poll released Monday found that there may be a way to sell conservatives on the issue.

A group of top Republican pollsters assembled by ClearPath, a right-leaning group that advocates for clean energy, released the results of a new poll that found conservative voters overwhelmingly support investing in clean energy — as long as the messenger isn’t talking about climate change.

“There are a lot of center-right arguments that not only win over large numbers of conservative Republicans, but also do really well among independent voters when matched up with that message from the left,” Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson told reporters during a conference call.

Fellow top GOP pollsters Whit Ayres, who has conducted surveys on behalf of presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Glen Bolger, whose firm polled on behalf of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s super PAC, also were involved in conducting the survey.

In recent years, most Republicans have opposed major measures to curb carbon emissions, either saying that fighting global warming would damage the US economy or disputing the scientific consensus about climate change.

Though a majority of Republican presidential candidates now admit the climate is changing, they disagree over the level to which human activity is responsible. And only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) have promised plans to curb the effects of climate change if elected.

But according to the pollsters, conservative voters not only believe that humans are contributing to climate change — 56% of self-described Republicans said this is true — but they are essentially open to investing in clean energy, provided they don’t have to think about the politics of the issue.

“What conservative Republicans really want is a depoliticizing of the climate issue. They don’t necessarily think that the alarmist rhetoric and certainly not the policy proposals of the left are what they’re looking for,” Anderson said. “On the other hand, the idea that the climate’s not changing and this is an issue that no one should talk about isn’t where they’re at.”

Only 10% of conservative respondents said they strongly agreed with a candidate who calls for more Environmental Protection Agency regulations to curb the effects of climate change. But 82% said that they’d support a candidate who called for the expansion of clean-energy investment “regardless of the debate over climate, because it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce air pollution, and improve public health.”

In the question above, respondents were only presented with two options — and did choose the one that’s most conservative.

Still, conservative voters were particularly drawn to several arguments in favour of increasing investment in clean energy: It keeps the air clean, it keeps the US safer from foreign-energy dependency and attacks, it creates jobs, and it helps the US win in an economic race with China.

Here are some notable findings from the poll:

  • Conservatives responded best to the idea that clean energy improves US energy independence and homeland security. 64% of conservative respondents said they supported accelerating growth of the clean-energy sector in order to free the US from reliance on foreign oil. Conservatives also supported how clean-energy implementation would help ease the burden of the US electrical grid, softening the damage of a hypothetical terrorist attack.
  • 87% of conservatives said they support allowing homeowners with solar panels to receive tax credits for the energy that they save and send back to the electrical grid.
  • Conservative politicians lose independent voters as soon as they brush off climate change. Independents told pollsters they’d be far more likely to support a candidate who described climate change as an “urgent” challenge directly over a candidate who said, “The science around climate change is not at all clear, so the government should focus on other, more important issues.”
  • 69% of conservative Republicans said they agree that investing in clean energy is an important way for the US to keep up with growing clean energy economies in China and other countries.

Despite the apparent support for clean energy represented across the board, perhaps the largest challenge for climate activists seeking conservative solutions to climate change was not posed in the poll. Climate change still remains among the lowest voter priorities.

ClearPath, backed by right-leaning businessman Jay Faison, has advocated for business-friendly solutions to fighting climate change.

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