Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Voters Just Don't Get It

It is considered in very poor taste for journalists, reporters, pundits, or even lowly bloggers to say it out loud, but many voters are stupid. There, we said it. It's uncouth but we value the truth over here. Climate change is real and all the floods in the Hudson Valley and Vermont, extreme heat in the South and West, smoke from Canadian wildfires in the Midwest, and 90F ocean water around Florida are not unrelated freak accidents. This is the new normal, as Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) put it, and it is due to anthropogenic climate change.

But the voters don't get it. Only 8% of registered voters see climate change as the biggest issue facing the country. It is in fifth place. Whether the planet remains compatible with human life is small potatoes. Even for Democrats, climate change is in fourth place. Independents ranked it fifth. Among Republicans it was tied with education in eighth place, with only 2% seeing it as the biggest issue—despite all the extreme weather in much of the country. Last Thursday was the hottest day in recorded history. The subgroups most concerned about climate change are people living in small cities (16%) and college graduates (11%). In no demographic subgroup do more than 16% of the people see climate change as the biggest problem the country has.

But maybe we are wrong and the voters are one step ahead of us. They see the problem and realize that the solution means making lifestyle changes they don't want, like trading in that big SUV for a small hybrid or electric car and not turning on the air conditioning until the temperature hits 80F. A study in 2019 showed that people learn to accept extreme weather as normal in as short a time as 2 years.

The effects of climate change are not distant and abstract. They are here and quite measurable. Around 1980, the average interval between weather events that caused $1 billion in damage was 82 days. Now it is 18 days, even when converting to 1980 dollars.

Of course, the reason for lack of action is that it has become a partisan issue. Many Republican leaders deny the obvious, promote fossil fuels, and oppose renewable energy. In a Congress balanced on knife's edge, this means not much can be done nationally, although Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act actually snuck in a fair amount of funding that addresses the transition to cleaner energy sources. Some of the states are trying to do something, but there is only so much they can do. Still, laws in California, Oregon, and Washington banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars starting in 2035 is something. If enough other states follow suit, it could add up. (V)

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