Voting Behavior Study 1 – Global Warming and the 2008 White House Contest

Study 1 – Global Warming and the 2008 White House Contest

The 2008 U.S. Presidential election pitted Barack Obama against John McCain in the race for the White House. Both candidates’ campaign webpages declared their belief that global warming is a threat and deserves attention, and both pledged to implement ambitious greenhouse gas reductions if elected.  Specifically, they each endorsed the bread-and-butter strategy of cap-and-trade to reduce emissions. So it seemed as if perhaps there was no difference between them and no basis to prefer one over the other on this issue.

However, a close look at what the men said during a widely-viewed national debate reveals a difference: Obama declared his optimism that the energy industry in America can be transformed, whereas McCain acknowledged that in the U.S. Senate, he had tried to pass ambiguous greenhouse gas reduction legislation and failed.  

Did voters notice this difference, and did it shape their voting behavior? To explore those questions, statistical analyses were conducted using data from a nationally representative survey.  Respondents reported their opinions about some greenhouse gas reduction policies and their perceptions of Obama’s and McCain’s positions on those issues. Respondents also answered lots of other questions measuring political party identification, liberal/conservative ideology, interest in politics, approval of President Bush’s job performance, perception of the health of the national economy, demographics, and more.  And respondents reported the personal importance of the global warming issue to them.

Forty-five percent of respondents said global warming was extremely important or very important to them personally, and 86% of those respondents held a green position on global warming: that it has been occurring and has been human-caused, it will be bad, and it merits government action. Of the high importance respondents, only four percent were explicitly not green.  This suggests that if Americans perceived Obama as more likely than McCain to enact green policies, green-high importance individuals would favor Obama.  

As expected, similarity between a candidate’s perceived position on global warming policy and the respondent’s own position predicted his/her voting behavior (controlling for all other predictors), especially among people who attached high personal importance to the issue.  People who perceived Mr. Obama to be closer to them on the issue than Mr. McCain were especially likely to vote for Mr. Obama as a result. For example, a very “green” respondent was more likely to vote for Mr.Obama than an average respondent or a very “not-green” respondent (see the figure below).Slide2


The data were from the Face-to-Face Recruited Internet Survey Platform (FFRISP).  Respondents were recruited via face-to-face area probability sampling. All received a free laptop (or its equivalent value in cash), high-speed Internet access at home (if they didn’t already have it), and regular cash payments in exchange for completing monthly questionnaires for a year.  The FFRISP began with 1,000 panelists who were recruited between June and October of 2008.  The study of global warming and voting was based on data collected during the first, second, fifth, and seventh waves, initiated in October 2008, November 2008, February 2009 and July 2009, respectively.