A majority of Wisconsin residents believe climate change is a serious problem and support solutions such as taxing industries for pollution and increasing renewable energy sources to combat it.
But while the issue is gaining some bipartisan support among Wisconsin residents, bipartisanship is harder to see in the political dialogue emerging from the state’s two main races — for U.S. Senate and governor.
A survey conducted late last year by the University of Wisconsin-Madison The Follette School of Public Affairs found that 59% of state residents classified climate change as “quite a problem” or “a very big problem” in the country.
While Democratic respondents were more likely to view climate change as a serious issue, some Republicans were also concerned about climate change, said Susan Webb Yackee, professor of public affairs and director of the Follette school.
“Traditionally this issue has been viewed through a partisan lens, but the poll suggests there are a good number of Republicans who think climate change is a really big deal,” Yackee said.
But while a significant number of Republican respondents said climate change was an important issue and that they would support solutions to combat it, the issue isn’t brought up much by Republican candidates in the two flagship races. It’s also unclear how it ranks against issues that have dominated the conversation in 2022 such as inflation, gas prices or the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal the right to ‘abortion.
Climate change is among a myriad of concerns emerging in an unscientific survey conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin among Wisconsin residents. Wisconsin’s Main Street Agenda project aims to learn more about what is on the minds of state residents ahead of the midterm elections.
The central question we’re asking residents to consider: what do you want candidates to talk about when they’re vying for your vote? The project is a collaboration between Wisconsin Public Radio and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s Ideas Lab with LaFollette School.
Alex Becker, a UW-Madison law student, responded to the survey and chose climate change as the issue that concerns him most.
In a follow-up interview, Becker said action taken now would be less costly than postponing a collective response. From Amery, Becker is 25 and plans to vote this fall. He believes his age influences the urgency with which he views climate change.
“The baby boomer generation will be gone by the time the planet sees the consequences of their failures, so we have to live with it,” Becker said.
According to the La Follette poll, 51% of voters aged 18 to 29 said climate change was “an extremely important issue” nationally, more than any other age group.
A majority of Wisconsin residents view climate change as an urgent issue
A majority of Wisconsin residents believe more needs to be done to combat it, with 63% of La Follette poll respondents saying the state government needs to do more. Among Democrats, 92% say this.
While the number of Republicans who think it’s much smaller — 27% think Wisconsin needs to do more to fix the problem — the La Follette poll results show that at least some party members see climate change as a problem.
According to the poll, 49% of Republican respondents said climate change was “a real problem” or an “extremely important issue” in the country, while 35% of Republicans said it was an issue in Wisconsin.
Again, that number is much higher among Democrats; 97% of them said it was “a real problem” or an “extremely important problem” in the country and 91% said it was a problem in Wisconsin.
When the La Follette poll asked Wisconsin residents about solutions to climate change, it found broad bipartisan support.
Gregory Nemet, professor at the La Follette school, whose research focuses on the technological evolution of energy and its interactions with public policies, believes that climate change is a growing concern because people are experiencing tangible effects.
“It’s more and more about current impacts that people can see, feel and observe,” he said. “Not so much about modeling or predicting how serious the problem will be in the future.”
Nemet said respondents from all political backgrounds are more likely to support action on climate change when asked about specific policy solutions.
“More people argue that oppose almost every policy we asked about,” Nemet said.
The poll asked residents if they supported climate change solutionsincluding taxing industries to eliminate pollution, increasing renewable energy, canceling fossil fuel projects, and helping to pay for new technologies that directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Democratic candidates talk about climate change; Republicans are generally not
Consistent with polling results, Democratic candidates for Wisconsin and the US Senate rank environmental concerns among the top issues in their campaigns, while most Republican candidates say little about it.
In line with the Democratic base, the party’s candidates for the US Senate seat now held by Republican Ron Johnson are all in favor of environmental policies to fight climate change.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, for example, has named the climate crisis one of his campaign’s top issues. Nelson said he supported stop fossil fuel projects such as lines 3 and 5 which transport crude oil and natural gas liquids in northern Wisconsin.
Fifty-two percent of Democrats and only 5% of Republicans strongly supported canceling such plans in the La Follette poll.
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who was appointed by Governor Tony Evers to Climate Change Working Group which recommended avoiding new fossil fuel projects, entered the race for the Senate highlighting his experience on the climate.
On the Republican side, the leading gubernatorial candidates do not appear to see climate change as a major issue.
In a recent opinion piece for the Cape Times in Madison, for example, former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch charged that Evers over-regulated the energy industry and pledged to eliminate the Office of Environmental Justice if elected.
Yet the decisions of many voters may boil down to more tangible and immediate issues. Lecturer at La Follette school Manuel Teodorowhose research focuses on politics and public policy, said candidates’ climate change positions may not sway Wisconsin voters.
“Voters may have strong opinions about the environment, but when it comes to elections, voters are likely to base their votes on other issues like inflation or the economy,” Teodoro said.