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Few Voters Give Energy and Environment as Reasons to Support Obama or McCain

By September 22, 2008

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In a year when every presidential candidate is talking almost daily about energy and the environment, and staking out positions on issues such as global warming, offshore drilling and nuclear energy, you might assume that many voters would be deciding how to cast their ballots based on how the candidates plan to address those issues once they become president. According to a recent Gallup Poll, you would be wrong.

What Emphasis Do McCain, Obama Supporters Place on Energy and Environment?
In a telephone survey of 1,007 adults, who either expressed a clear preference for one of the leading presidential candidates (Obama or McCain) or were leaning toward one over the other, “Environment/Global Warming” ranked dead last among “the one or two most important reasons” voters would choose to support a candidate, and “Energy/His energy plan” didn’t fare much better. (See the full poll results).

Only 2 percent of Obama supporters ranked “Environment/Global Warming” among their top issues, while none of McCain’s supporters listed those issues among their most important reasons why they would vote for the Arizona senator. Despite high gasoline prices and concerns about breaking America’s petroleum addiction and freeing the nation from dependence on foreign oil, only 2 percent of Obama voters and 1 percent of McCain voters listed “Energy/His energy plan” among their top issues.

Voters Favor Obama for Change, McCain for Experience
Obama received his strongest support from voters who said they “want change” and a “fresh approach,” while only 3 percent of McCain supporters listed change as a reason to vote for him. Experience and qualifications are the reasons given most often by voters who are supporting McCain, while only 2 percent of Obama supporters offered those issues as reasons to cast their vote for the Illinois senator.

None of this is too surprising. The survey, after establishing each respondent’s candidate preference or leaning, asked an open-ended question: "What would you say are the one or two most important reasons why you would vote for (John McCain/Barack Obama)?" As you might expect, each candidate’s core messages tended to rank high among voters who either supported him already or were leaning in that direction.

Economy, Terrorism, and Values Rank High Among Many Voters
The economy ranked high among voters who support Obama (16 percent) versus those who support McCain (6 percent), and many more Obama supporters (10 percent) versus McCain supporters (1 percent) ranked plans to help working people and the middle class as key reasons to vote for their candidates.

National security and terrorism ranked high among McCain supporters (18 percent) versus Obama supporters (2 percent), but Obama got more nods for his Iraq war strategy (9 percent) than McCain (4 percent).

McCain also got high marks among his supporters for his honesty, integrity and good character (12 percent), choice of running mate (10 percent), and service to his country (9 percent). Obama, meanwhile, drew support from people who agreed with his values (13 percent) and from those who appreciated his intelligence and knowledge (7 percent).

Summing Up
This poll offers no real insight into which candidate is likely to win the presidency in November, but it does shed some light on which issues are influencing the voters who are backing each candidate (or leaning in that direction). While there is no question about the critical importance of energy and environmental issues, or their prominence in the campaigns of all leading presidential candidates this year, it would be easy to assume at first glance that most voters don’t care much about those issues. That, in my opinion, would be a mistake.

The survey asked voters to choose only the top one or two reasons they would vote for a particular candidate. Given that narrow choice to make, it’s not surprising that many voters chose broad categories, such as “change” for Obama or “experience” for McCain, which would cover a lot of issues generally. It’s also not surprising that the immediacy of the nation’s economic woes might trump what some perceive as less urgent environmental issues—and a choice for the economy as a top reason to vote for one candidate over the other could easily include concerns about energy prices and policies.

It’s certainly true that, traditionally, voters have expressed personal concerns about the environment yet failed to cast their votes in direct response to those concerns, but never before has the environment played such a pivotal role in shaping campaign promises and national policy. It’s going to be an interesting election.

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September 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm
(1) John says:

Bogus poll. It is an open ended generic question … rephrased in the form of several top issues in ranked order of importance and I think you would see a different outcome.

September 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm
(2) guidoLaMoto says:

Almost all polls are bogus. By limiting choices and asking for ranking, you are biasing the poll. People will often give the answers they think they “should” and not the ones the want to give. A poll not long ago found that at least half of respondees favored American financial aid for the Rebels on Alpha-Centauri. !!!???
BTW- at least the poll quoted in the article showed Liberals wanted “change” and Conservatives didn’t. Isn’t that the very definition of Liberal & Conservative?

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