Voter Behavior Study 4 – Global Warming and 2011 Barack Obama vs. GOP Candidates

As President Barack Obama moved toward his 2012 re-election campaign, the issue of global warming continued to lurk in the political dialog, but the “buzz” around taking action appeared to have faded somewhat, the New York Times reported (1). Congressional efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions had failed more than once. The high-profile 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House of Representatives but faltered in the Senate.

A crowded Republican presidential field shifted away from the position that GOP nominee John McCain had expressed in the previous election, that global warming was a threat. In a primary debate, candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas, said that “the science is not settled” on man-made global warming, and only one GOP hopeful, Jon M. Huntsman Jr.,  said he trusted scientists’ view that the problem was real (1).

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who became the GOP nominee, was silent about global warming on his website. In public comments he said he believed the Earth was warming but that he was unwilling to “spend trillions of dollars” on solving it when the extent of human causation was unknown (2).

Obama did not mention climate in his 2011 State of the Union Address, instead referring to clean energy and green jobs (3). He was criticized by some for not being more vocal and for actions that enabled more greenhouse gas emissions, while others praised his steps on carbon-cutting clean energy (4).

How did the public see global warming during this time? Was there truth in a perception that Americans no longer supported global warming science? Or did people still believe it was happening? Was it human caused?

And did people’s views predict how they would vote in the presidential election?

In 2011, surveys explored the views of Americans on global warming and links between their own views and their voting preferences.

The survey also asked about voting preferences, proposing a series of hypothetical match-ups between Barack Obama, the Democrat, and the Republicans Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann. Respondents were asked for their candidate preference in each hypothetical contest.

All respondents were asked which candidate they would favor if the presidential election were being held today.  They were asked a series of five questions, each pitting Barack Obama against a different Republican candidate from the list of presidential contenders.

To ascertain candidate views on global warming, news reporting on was analyzed between November 15, 2010 and September 12, 2011. When people’s own beliefs more closely matched a candidate’s views, they were more likely to vote for that candidate. This trend was most pronounced for Democratic respondents and those that held strong beliefs about their views on global warming.

People who expressed belief in global warming and human causation backed President Obama for re-election. And global-warming belief was a significant predictor of a vote for Obama after controlling for other factors thought to influence voter preference (party identification, perception of country going in the right direction, approval of President Obama, and demographics). For example, a very “green” respondent would be more likely to vote for Mr. Obama than a very “not-green” respondent (see the figure below). Slide3

Survey details

This survey was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., between Sept 8 and 12, 2011.Random-digit dial telephone calls were made to a national probability sample of U.S. adults 18 and older.  A total of 890 respondents were interviewed on a landline phone and 244 were interviewed on a cell phone. Interviews were conducted  in English and Spanish.


  1. New York Times Oct. 11, 2011
  2. Politifact, May 15, 2012                                
  3. Think Progress website
  4. PBS News Hour with Gwen Ifill.