This has been a long election, no doubt about it. Which means that everyone has had a long time to figure out just who those pesky undecided voters are and what they care about. The campaigns especially have a stake in knowing exactly what these undecided voters care about — and it turns out that they cared about the climate before Hurricane Sandy brought climate change issues to the forefront. With so many resources devoted to the quest of finding out what voters care about, why did the campaigns never pursue climate change?
A poll by Yale and George Mason Universities, though the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, showed that 80% of undecided voters, surveyed in August - September 2012, believe global warming is happening. Most importantly, a majority of undecideds say that global warming is one of several important issues that will guide their voting choices.
These figures are interesting, but they become incredibly persuasive when contrasted with likely Romney voters and likely Obama voters. The undecideds look a lot more like Obama voters when it comes to climate change issues; 86% of likely Obama voters believe global warming is happening, just slightly higher than the undecideds, but that fraction drops to 45% for Romney voters. Or, take the question 'Should Congress be doing more to address climate change?' — a whopping 72% of undecideds say yes — compared with 78% of Obama supporters, but only 38% of Romney supporters.
Image from Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
It is clear, then, that when we look at undecided's positions on global warming, they begin to look an awful lot like Obama supporters. These trends extend into opinions on clean energy and investments in renewable energy research too. Only in our incredibly polarized political world would an issue with such salience not be addressed.
Given the opinions of these valuable undecided voters on climate change, then, it appears that both campaigns screwed up, but Romney's did worse. Obama's campaign could have talked about his climate change positions, appealing to all those undecided voters who care about this issue. It is an unused positive for the Obama campaign. Yet Romney's failure to make positive statements about the need to address climate change — and, moreover, his fickle history of flip-flops when it comes to climate change — is a definite negative. He has gone from actively arguing for action against climate change to arguing against, "the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions." Some have even wondered if this radical change was just an effort to appeal to wealthy donors like the Koch brothers. This campaign must have been counting on climate change being too much of a political hot potato for this weakness of Romney's to come to light. Unfortunately, Sandy struck, and Cuomo and Bloomberg both recognized the role of climate change in the storm — it cost Romney the Bloombergendorsement.
Both sides of the political spectrum failed to discuss with undecided voters what they would do about the issue that 80% of them care about. It is unlikely that this issue would, or could, have singly won the election for either candidate, but with convincing data available on the salience of climate change to the American voter, hopefully political candidates and officers will — likely slowly, but surely — start to take notice and talk about solutions.