COMMENT: More condescending polls of US voters reveal same data on climate change: They’re just as scared as you

Bellona/Charles Digges

Publish date: December 17, 2012

Written by: Charles Digges

Since before the hardest, ugliest days of the US presidential campaign between Barack Obama and his defeated challenger Mitt Romney wound to their tense conclusion, pollsters have been trying to illustrate the level of the US electorate’s engagement in issues of climate change.

The tick of polls has continued through the failed days of Doha, where the United States again – predictably – did not sign up for a second round of Kyoto emissions reductions, all the less surprising because it didn’t do it the first time.

A joint poll between the Associated Press newswire and GfK Roper Public Affair & Corporate Communication conducted between November 29 and December 3 – during the dog days of the Qatari UN climate talks – and released last week purported to show that a change in perception about global warming is afoot in the United States.

The poll was, like most of the others that preceded it this summer and autumn, presented as news that grassroots opinion in the United States was finally coming around. In reality, however, the new poll showed that, when compared to other recent queries of the US public, the average American is concerned about climate change and has remained so for some time.

The homogenous figures therefore show not that Middle America is waking up, but that there is a profound disconnect between what it wants and what Washington has the courage to deliver to it.

The most significant figure toted up by the new poll suggests that 57 of those asked are “extremely sure” the world’s temperature is rising, up 14 percent from 2009.

But remarkable deviations from 2009 pretty much end there, and certainly show no exceptional deviations from polls taken by Yale, Gallup, UT Energy, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation as far back as June and dating up to the final days of the presidential campaign.

These polls also showed that, during a heated election, Obama would do well to flex his climate credentials to gain an edge over Romney’s waffling positions to win votes. And, as if delivered by God, along came Superstom Sandy. America clearly needed a president with some climate credentials.

70-80 percent believe in global warming

All of these earlier polls, like Friday’s AP/GfK poll, showed 70 to 80 percent of those asked thought climate changed posed a serious danger to the United States if nothing is done to reduce global warming.

The 15-page AP/GfK poll also presents figures about whether Americans think the US should act aggressively to curb global warming – 57 percent today up from 52 percent in 2009 – and whether Obama will be able to do anything about climate change over the next four years: an anemic 45 percent.

American voter opinion on climate change not news

What gets slightly irritating about these polls is that while the data remain essentially the same – a solid 70 to 80 percent of average hayseed Americans believe climate change poses a threat and feel that the government should engage in dealing with it – is that they are presented as new evidence that the US may bring something to the international table.

The American electorate is solidly behind developing a cohesive climate strategy and would, as the numbers have shown – especially in the pre-Sandy Yale Poll – back government initiatives to achieve this.

But then, your average American does not hold a seat in Congress, which is beholden to corporate money, geographical fossil fuel dependence, the imperative of shining the shoes of these corporate interests and tending to a dozen other apron strings to keep their jobs. And when you have a reluctant Congress, you have a crippled president. 

Climate change not news in Prairietown USA

What’s more is that average Americans, if I may speak for them, have been aware of and concerned about climate change for probably as long as their European counterparts have been. It has just taken some time to put a scientific vocabulary to it.

I grew up in a small south Midwestern farming town whose fortunes rose as fell with floods, droughts and freak weather. And we all groaned during the first Bush administration’s essential denial of climate change, and rejoiced when the Clinton administration talked about it as a major issue. To everyone’s frustration, it was again shelved by Bush II. And when Obama again spoke of it in dire terms, it was cause for celebration. 

But how long can the celebration go on when, as happened this summer, my home-state was lashed by tornados and the crops that sustain it scorched by more than 2000 broken heat records? How many international phone calls can I make to other of my family members who live on the Gulf of Mexico to please evacuate the path of another hurricane? And how long can yet more of my family and friends stand waist deep in fetid water washed up from the sewers of Manhattan’s Lower East Side as another “Frakenstorm” rips as far inland as the Great Lakes? And we all voted for Obama. Twice.

These are just mild examples when we look at, say, Africa, where desiccating droughts, biblical floods and climate refugees have daily been displaced for decades from centuries old villages either by the disappearance of basic resources or internecine warfare that would claim them.

American voters are not idiots, especially in today’s environment of the 24 hour news cycle. They see exactly what is going on and want change.

Bridging political disenfranchisement

The more useful, and less condescending, question for pollsters to pose, then, is not whether the American electorate believes in climate change, but what can be done in realistic, fruit-bearing ways to re-engage the American government with the concerns of the people who voted it into office – and what can be done to impart to the average American citizen that what they think actually matters to those in power.

This deep sense of disenfranchisement between the American government and the American governed is something that has been in evidence since the American industrial revolution, when money and corporations and investment banks began to count for more than votes. Untying the Gordian noose between corporations, banks and the government that work to maintain the fossil status quo is the way to get 70 percent of voting Americans’ voices heard.

That, unfortunately, is a local issue in the US and one in which very little progress has been made. So long as the government is dictated by the interests of corporations –something that certainly happens in Europe but to a far less breathtaking degree to which it occurs in the US – instead of by the interests of the people, I don’t see any particular progress taking place.

And I further see it as largely useless to blame the American public for its county’s reluctance to take any real initiative on climate change. Americans speak in polls and demonstrations and various occupy style movements. They write letters to the editor, convene town meeting-type events, write their members of Congress and survey with bitter eyes the encroachment of climate change as it destroys their cities and prairies alike. And they vote. Yet their voices remain unheard.