In the perennial swing state of Pennsylvania, elections are often decided by voters who don’t identify with either political party – and recent polling shows Independents have swung hard on the issue of climate. With 3 out of 4 Pennsylvanians now voicing serious concern about the impacts of climate change, what’s the political cost of inaction? Analysis from Jim Lee, CEO of Susquehanna Polling & Research, and Franz Litz of Litz Energy Strategies LLC.
Partisan polarization around the topic of climate change is worse than it’s ever been. In Pennsylvania and beyond, those who identify most strongly with the Democratic party are the most likely to identify climate as a major concern and to support decisive action. Meanwhile, the Republican party’s core supporters are galvanized in the opposite direction.
But party identification isn’t what it used to be – especially in a purple state like Pennsylvania, where ticket-splitting independents are the fastest-growing bloc of voters and frustration with both parties is at historic highs. On climate in particular, independents are beginning to take sides: solid majorities now report they are either somewhat or very concerned about negative impacts and want their leaders to do something about it.
Three out of four Pennsylvanians now say they’re worried about climate change.
“If you come from a straight Republican district where just having the ‘R’ next to your name gets the job done… then I understand if the base is what you listen to,” said Jim Lee, CEO of Susquehanna Polling & Research. “But that’s not the majority of districts in this state.”
According to a report published this spring by Susquehanna Polling & Research, three out of four Pennsylvanians now say they’re worried about climate change – and more than half say they’re “very” concerned. This is the the latest in a long string of polls showing that the reality and threat of rising global temperatures are no longer up for debate in most people’s minds.
Unlike many of those polls, however, this one also digs into Pennsylvanians’ attitudes about what should be done in response – not just to lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate impacts, but also to support people and communities through the transition.
“The really interesting thing that jumped out of these poll results for me is an appetite for helping out communities that are seeing coal plants go offline and the jobs that are at coal plants go away… But without a program like RGGI, where is that money going to come from?” said Franz Litz of Litz Energy Strategies LLC.
The survey found strong support for the creation of a public fund to assist displaced workers, and overwhelming agreement that the state government should actively support affected communities.
“70% of Pennsylvanians say state government should take an active role in assisting communities through the transition when we have displaced workers due to clean energy transformation. That’s a powerful number.”
That’s an important feature of Pennsylvania’s plan to decarbonize power generation by linking with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, which would also promote job creation through investment in clean energy sources.
“70% of Pennsylvanians say state government should take an active role in assisting communities through the transition when we have displaced workers due to clean energy transformation. That’s a powerful number,” said Mr. Lee. “We’re a very divided state on a lot of issues…. So to get 70% of voters to agree on anything in Pennsylvania in a poll is substantial and noteworthy.”
The consensus that this transition is likely inevitable for Pennsylvania gives the state an opportunity to catch up to neighboring states that have taken more initiative on climate in the past.
“Where Pennsylvania has perhaps fallen behind is, it hasn’t used renewables, it hasn’t adopted programs like RGGI to reduce emissions, so it has some catching up to do. That’s why you see other states, neighboring states, that have higher percentages of renewables and they’re reaping the benefits of those lower-cost power sources,” said Mr. Litz.
He predicts that Pennsylvania will adopt the RGGI program by early next year.