Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Do Fewer Americans Believe in Global Warming?

Summary: Just more than one third of Americans believe climate change is caused by humans these days, but what - or who - is to blame?

According to a Pew Center report released last week, only 57% of Americans believe that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming - down a staggering 14% since April 2008 - and just 36% believe global warming is both real and caused by humans.

Every demographic and ideological group has become more skeptical about climate change, and - with the exception of Americans under 30 and self-described “liberal” Democrats - every one of these groups has become more likely to say it is not a serious problem.

Pollster Jon Krosnick of Stanford University - who has been studying public opinion on global warming since 1993 - told the AP that these recent trends are simply “implausible” because he can’t think of anything that could have caused them.

So we decided to explore why Americans are becoming less likely to believe in global warming.

As the Pew Center authors wrote in the overview of their study - which also examined public opinion on possible cap-and-trade legislation - “As the health care debate has dominated the public’s attention, awareness about cap and trade legislation is quite low.”

That brings us to the first reason why belief in climate change is declining: Americans have less faith that it’s real because they’ve been hearing about it less.

In 2006 - the year Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” and global warming awareness was at an all time high - belief in climate change was 20% higher than it is today.

However, that theory doesn’t seem too likely, as “going green” is something we’re still reminded about on a near daily basis. It’s been impossible to escape all the Prius ads, BP spots, and all the other commercials having to do with eco-friendly consumer choices in the past few years.

In fact, much of the eco-advertising started around 2006 - the same time as “An Inconvenient Truth” - even though it’s strange to see big companies touting green products.

For many of the climate change deniers, one of the reasons they believe global warming is a hoax is because of the “special interests” behind it (i.e. the companies that can profit from it). So are such ads doing more harm than good - are they actually creating a doubt as to global warming’s legitimacy?

While it’s possible, it’s not exactly likely.

That being said, the special interest groups that lobby against legislation such as cap-and-trade may bear a lot of responsibility.

From the AP:

Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

"It's a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public," he said.

And there is some evidence behind this theory.

About a year or two ago, my mother actually forwarded this video attacking “An Inconvenient Truth” in a chain email.

According to a Wall Street Journal article in 2006, the video was covertly created and virally spread by DCI Group, a Republican lobbying firm working for ExxonMobile. DCI Group also helped create video news releases - some of which ended up being used in news reports - and paying the few skeptical scientists out there to appear on talk-radio and write editorials.

The point is this: anyone who believes lobbyists only influence Washington politicians is being naïve.

The truth is that lobbyists communicate with regular Americans on a regular basis - through news, media, and even the more viral - and untraceable - New Media operations such as chain emails and YouTube clips that distort truth and confuse Americans (don’t forget, 12% of Americans still believe President Obama practices Islam). made a good point when they brought up an infamous tobacco lobbying memo which said “doubt is our product” - lobbyists for the oil industry and other special interests threatened by global warming legislation need to sell that same product to the American people. It’s the best way to thwart public opinion against such legislation.

And so far their marketing strategy appears to be working.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Preview of Next Week’s Elections in Virginia

Summary: Today we look at Democratic backlash and Deeds' uphill battle against McDonnell going into next week's election.

On Tuesday, Virginians will head to the polls to decide their next governor between Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds and former GOP State Attorney General Bob McDonnell. Earlier this morning, Nate Silver predicted that Deeds was a “60-1 underdog at this stage.”

From his post:

If you had a 2008-type electorate turning out, this race would be reasonably competitive; McDonnell might be leading by a point or three, but it would be worth watching. With this type of electorate, the Democrat is pretty much helpless against a reasoanbly well-organized Republican opponent.

Of course, the composition of the electorate isn't a completely exogenous factor; the quality of the candidates and their campaigns can have some effect. Democrats seemed quite pleased when Deeds became their nominee in June, figuring he'd do well with working-class and rural voters. But the working-class, rural vote isn't where the swing vote is in Virginia, one of the wealthiest states in the country. Instead, it's the more well-off folks in the suburbs. And it tends to be those well-off folks, by the way, who are most likely to have changed their opinion on Barack Obama, as the perception has set in (to an extent) that he's a tax-and-spend liberal.

Meanwhile, Deeds hasn't done much to motivate African-American turnout, which projects to make up only about 15 percent of the electorate as compared with 20 percent in 2008 -- although the number is not so atypical for a non-Presidential contest in the state…

… Deeds can probably be blamed for his failure to find a good affirmative message, as voters perceive him 2:1 as having run a negative campaign. And -- let's face it -- he's not the most commanding presence on the stump.

This analysis - and conclusion - are all pretty believable. Deeds has been lagging in the polls for the past few months (recent polls show he’s down 15%-17%) and the Democratic Party in Virginia hasn’t exactly been helping.

Back in March, we noted how the Virginia GOP appeared to be in particularly bad shape internally - the State Chair was facing a coup, Republican delegates were retiring, and Democrats seemed poised to continue their Blue Sweep in the Commonwealth.

Just one month later we saw the signs of something entirely different - a disorganized network of groups and leaders that was poorly executing the priorities of the Democratic Party there.

From that post:

"…it seems that Virginia Democrats are either lacking the organizational skills or resources to mount an effective campaign against Bob McDonnell. Luckily there is a good five-month period between the Primary and General Elections for the nominee to do the grunt work. And McDonnell has planted the seeds of his defeat himself by opposing the stimulus package.

But if the current lackluster campaigning continues, Virginia’s Blue Sweep cannot continue in Virginia. GOP backlash to Democratic priorities has already been seen this week in Tea Party protests across the country. The Republican base is mobile and active, even in less exciting times on the political calendar."

Unfortunately for the Democrats, that lackluster campaigning most certainly continued.

And it’s not just Deeds who is in trouble. From an article in Politico:

Virginia Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is launching a new ad Monday for his reelection campaign that ties his Democratic rival, Jody Wagner, to her ticket mate, Creigh Deeds.

By linking Wagner to her party’s gubernatorial nominee, Bolling hopes to tag his opponent with the same perception that is currently hurting Deeds — that she is running a negative campaign and wants to raise taxes. It’s a strategy Republicans across Virginia are gravitating to as poll numbers increasingly point to GOP gains in the Commonwealth next month…

… “Higher taxes, fewer jobs, dishonest attacks — that’s Wagner’s record and that’s their plan,” the narrator intones as a side-by-side image of Deeds and Wagner is flashed on the screen…

… The GOP’s guilt by association strategy is also being used further down the ticket as Republicans, who have suffered a string of statewide losses in Virginia, are increasingly buoyed by poll numbers showing independents swinging their way and all three Republican candidates for statewide office enjoying solid leads.

In a Lynchburg-area House of Delegates race, the Republican candidate is calling his rival, incumbent Democrat Shannon Valentine, a “Creigh Deeds Democrat” in a TV commercial.

“What could Creigh Deeds and Shannon Valentine be thinking?” the ad produced for Republican Scott Garrett begins. “Deeds and Valentine want $1 billion in new taxes."

The State Legislature, however, does appear to be somewhat safe for both parties to maintain control at current levels.

According to the Swing State Project, the House of Delegates looks particularly unlikely to see a significant net gain or loss of seats one way or another.

But most of the statewide offices are about to go Republican, and the growing influence of Democrats in the Commonwealth over the past several years is about to face a major hiccup.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Republicans Drafting a New Contract with America

Summary: Will history repeat itself? With the GOP drafting the Ten for '10, we look to 2006 and 1994 for signs of what the midterm 2010 elections will bring.

In an ideas piece today, former Congressman Martin Frost (D-TX) took issue with the growing intrigue over whether the midterm elections in 2010 will resemble the Republican Revolution of 1994.

From the piece:

On the surface, a comparison might seem to make sense. After all, in 1994, newly elected Democratic President Bill Clinton was serving his first two years, and there were Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. And we all know what happened: Republicans won control of both chambers in a historic rout.

However, that is all that these two very different political years have in common.

First and foremost among the differences was that House Democrats in 1994 were a tired, old majority that had run out of steam after being in control for 40 years. The most recent Republican majority in the House had occurred during the opening two years, 1953 and 1954, of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Democrats in 1994 were complacent, assuming they were a permanent House majority. Also, they were short on new ideas and did not have strong leadership. Democrats today have policy ideas and clearly have energetic leadership.

Also, there were a number of factors at play in 1994 that are not present in 2010. Leading the list was the fact that Democrats had to defend a large number of open seats because of retirements and members running for other offices. A total of 18 such open seats were lost by the Democrats. So far, Democratic retirements have been held to a minimum…

…Some other seats were lost in the South as a delayed result of the 1991 redistricting, in which Republicans made gains but vulnerable incumbents were able to hold on for one more term in 1992. Redistricting also may have played a role in the decision by some of the 18 Democrats mentioned above who retired.

Also, because the Republican tide broke late in the 1994 election cycle, some Democrats never saw it coming. Classic examples were Reps. Dan Glickman in Kansas and David Price in North Carolina. Price won his seat back after a two-year absence, but Glickman never returned to Congress. And some Democrats were swept from power because of a specific scandal (Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois) and the gun control issue (biggest example being Rep. Jack Brooks of Texas)…

…Also, Democrats fell victim to an easily understood scandal: the continuing controversy over bounced checks at the House bank. The current flap over New York Rep. Charles Rangel’s alleged ethical issues has nowhere near the impact of the House bank scandal.

So why do the media continue to make comparisons between 1994 and 2010? The main reason is that the party of the president almost always loses some congressional seats in the first election following a presidential victory, and the problems that Congress faces right now are monumental in scope. The only recent exceptions to this were 1934 (President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term) and 2002 (President George W. Bush’s first term).

None of this adds up to a landslide for Republicans. The only thing that could result in a major realignment would be high unemployment in fall 2010. Democrats know that and will do everything in their power to stabilize the economic situation.

There was, however, one paragraph where he might have been wrong:

Another difference between the two election years is that Republicans in 1994 actually stood for something. They weren’t just the “party of no.” Then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Texas Rep. Dick Armey put together their Contract With America, which gave Republican House candidates across the country a unified platform.

But the GOP knows they have a “party of no” image, and they are trying to shed it from their candidates.

Before the Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006, they carried their own “party of no” image (although those weren’t exactly the words used). Conservatives often pointed towards the minority leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid along with their party as the “whiney liberals” in Congress.

In 2006, of course, Pelosi, Reid, and other Democratic leaders put together the “Six for ‘06” plan - not too unlike the Contract with America - and came back to power.

Among the platform proposals of that plan: implementing all recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, raising the minimum wage and negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare recipients.

Now, according to CQ Politics, Republicans are putting together another such platform which is informally being called “Ten for ‘10”

From the article:

[Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)], chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, said members of the conference are coming up with recommended policy planks that would provide voters “a commitment to accomplish certain ends.”

Among proposals floated so far by members: a ban on spending unused funds from this year’s economic stimulus law (PL 111-5), tougher earmark disclosure requirements and an “all of the above” climate change plan that would expand offshore oil drilling.

Whether proposals like these resonate with Americans on a values level - like many of the “Six for ‘06” ones did - is a little difficult to imagine. It’s hard to boast a plan for earmark disclosure when Americans are worried about losing their jobs.

As we said in a post after the general election last year:

On the issues, the Republican Party is having difficulty framing winning arguments on trickle-down economics, climate change, and health care reform. The key issues that Lee Atwater used to bolt the Republicans for over twenty years were welfare and crime, but today they have little resonance.

Being the “party of no” is not all the GOP has to worry about - Republican leaders must not let it become the “party of ‘who cares’” too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is the Political Landscape Simply Unfavorable for Incumbents?

Summary: Local politicians and the dangers of incumbency - close proximity to voters can lead to victories for challengers.

Typically incumbents are the politicians with the least to worry about. The incumbency effect can often keep you in office for as long as you want because you have the name recognition, resources, and record to make you more credible than a challenger.

However, Politico reports in a new article that the current landscape - troubled by the impacts of the national recession - may simply be unfavorable for incumbents at the moment. Rather than starting in Virginia and New Jersey - which pundits are watching closely for their 2010 implications - the article points to the races that are not getting the same national attention: mayoral elections.

From the article:

Some incumbent mayors have already lost their races. Others have held on to win—or are likely to win next week—with greatly diminished margins from their previous re-election bids. Either way, local incumbents are bleeding badly after being buffeted by the pressures of high unemployment, low tax revenues and a volatile, impatient electorate…

…"People are lashing out, have less patience with the elected officials closest to them," said Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, the longest-serving mayor in city history and a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "That kind of angst materializes either in walking away from the system or in deciding that whoever is up for election must have played some role, somehow, in some way, in the international financial crisis."…

…Tom Cochran, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, recently attended a mayors' conference in Seattle where he met with an alarmed group of city leaders.

"Many mayors have talked to me about—those that are not running and those that are running—sometimes how difficult it is to deal with people in ordinary places like coffee places, bars, churches," Cochran said. "They had great hopes for the stimulus, providing jobs, that's been late coming."

It's not just mayors who should be spooked, Cochran warned: "If I were a congressman I'd be looking at this baby right now, because they are going to hit reality when they go back home for Christmas."

Where are these anti-incumbent tendencies coming from?

The article continues:

[Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’] defeat had little to do with partisan politics—both his rivals were Democrats. Seattle consultant Randy Bannecker suggested it emerged from the city's restive mood.

"It is sort of this combination of an interest in progressiveness, in progressive issues, coupled with a yearn for an anti-government or an outsider figure," Bannecker said. "You’d talk to people in various parts of the city, various constituencies; they couldn’t really articulate why they opposed [Nickels]."…

…Some veterans of mayoral politics caution against reading too much into the outcomes of local races. Instead of reflecting national trends, they argue, mayoral elections often have more to do with the mechanics of local government and the delivery of city services.

"There's a little bit of variety in these local races that makes generalization a bit problematic," said former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

But while the national mood isn’t the sole factor driving mayor's races, Goldsmith acknowledged that those forces can help set the terms of the local debate.

Indeed, the city Goldsmith once governed was home to the most surprising mayoral upset of 2007, when Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson lost to an unknown and underfinanced Republican after a debate over property taxes spun out of control.

So will anger towards local incumbents mean a bad political landscape for Congressional or even state incumbents? We’ll have to wait until next November to really know for sure.