Carbon Regulations a Win for Democrats?

global warming coal plant epa
The United States on Monday formally announced a plan to slash carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels Jim Urquhar/Reuters

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that addressing climate change may help save the planet, but it’s a loser politically.

But there’s mounting evidence that that is no longer the case. Polling shows voters increasingly concerned about global warming as well as the health risks like asthma in children that rise due to pollution.

That’s why President Obama’s latest climate change initiative—a reduction in carbon emissions from power plants—may not be entirely an altruistic political endeavor.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would require states to curb power plant’s carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030—a preliminary rule that will be finalized next year. The liberal group Americans United for Change commissioned a poll to test how the new rule was going over with voters.

The results: A 53 percent majority of respondents support the new rule, as opposed to 35 percent who oppose it. Independent voters, a crucial voting bloc, support the new rules by an even greater margin, 59 percent to 29 percent.

The survey also took the pulse of voters looking ahead to the 2016 elections and found that 46 percent would not be willing to vote for a presidential candidate who does not believe global warming is caused by human activity, while 38 percent would support a climate-change skeptic—that number was down to 29 percent for independents.

The battle over the new rules could loom large in 2014 races in coal country—Kentucky’s Senate race, for example—or for Democrats like Senator Mary Landrieu running for re-election in oil industry-dependent Louisiana. And it could hurt Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate in 2014. But in 2016, the game is different.

According to The New York Times, while coal country was for decades a Democratic stronghold, that region’s shift (including parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky) to the Republican Party is essentially complete, with or without the new regulations. In 2012, Obama won states like Virginia and Ohio that include coal-dependent areas.

This is just one poll from a liberal group, but it mirrors what polling by other groups is beginning to show: that looking beyond 2014 to 2016, after years of being fearful of the issue, Democrats might be on the winning side of the climate-change debate.

Monday’s poll was conducted by the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling. It surveyed 735 voters June 2 and has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.