The voters most opposed to the costs of climate action tend to be the kind of “deplorables” most easily dismissed by center-left parties at their own peril.
If President Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest, his path will likely go through abortion and climate change, two issues on which the Democrats are most inflamed, confident in their righteousness and willing to embrace radical policies that appeal to their own voters much more than anyone else.
Joe Biden, the relative moderate, is subject to these forces. He released a climate plan that, even if more modest than the “Green New Deal” (a low bar), is clearly derived from it.
Climate is a watchword among the Democratic presidential candidates — and an enormous downside risk. Once everyone on your own side agrees about an issue, and once you are convinced that you are addressing a planet-threatening crisis that will become irreversible in about a decade’s time, prudence and incrementalism begin to look dispensable.
There’s no doubt that climate is a top-tier issue for Democrats. In a CNN poll, 96% of Democrats say it’s very important that candidates support “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.” It’s doubtful that mom, baseball and apple pie would poll any higher.
It’s also true that the public is adopting climate orthodoxy. According to a survey by climate change programs at Yale and George Mason, 70% believe that climate change is happening, and 57% believe that humans are causing it.
It’s easy to over-interpret these numbers, though. While a big majority of Democrats see climate change as a problem, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found only 15% of Republicans and — more important — 47% of independents do.
Of course, saying climate change is a problem doesn’t cost anyone anything. An AP/University of Chicago poll asked people how much they were willing to pay to fight climate change, and 57% said at least $1 a month, or not even the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The political experience of other advanced democracies is a flashing red light. In Australia last month, the opposition lost what was supposed to be “the climate change” election, against all expectations. Polling showed that about 60% of Australians called climate change “a serious and pressing problem” and thought the government should address it “even if this involves significant costs.”
It turned out that it was one thing to tell that to pollsters and another to vote to make it happen. The opposition promised a 45% reduction in carbon emissions with no serious pain, while the conservative governing coalition focused on the cost — and won.