Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Cautionary Note About Public Opinion Polls of Climate Change

Many supporters of climate legislation are pointing to favorable public opinion polls as reason for optimism about prospects for the current legislative session in Congress (see, e.g., here, here, and here). However much I might want to believe that we will get some meaningful climate legislation this term, I am skeptical.

National polls do not reveal much about the likelihood of legislative enactment because laws are not enacted by legislators elected by the country as a whole. Rather, they are enacted by law-makers elected from congressional districts and, in the case of Senators, individual states, where the support for climate legislation may deviate greatly from the findings of national polls.

If you really want to determine with some accuracy the prospects for climate legislation in the current legislative session, you need to conduct state- and district-level polling, and then assess the results against the majority-approval requirement in the House and the Senate's super-majority-approval (60-vote) requirement. Regardless of national polls showing strong support for climate legislation, my starting point is one of skepticism that those favorable poll numbers can translate into even modest  climate legislation passed by both houses of Congress.

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