It's likely that more voters with doubts or denial about climate change will visit polling booths today than in years past, according to analysts and polling.
"It's almost a foregone conclusion," Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, said of the expected turnout.
Republican enthusiasm and the party's rising dismissal of global warming are coinciding to make this an Election Day marked by climate dissent. A final pre-election poll by Gallup shows that generic Republican congressional candidates hold a 15-point lead over their Democratic counterpart.
"Republicans could gain anywhere from 60 seats on up, with gains well beyond that possible," Gallup says of its poll released yesterday. Republicans need 39 seats to seize control of the House.
Not all Republicans doubt the presence of climate change, or that humans contribute to it. But many do, and the potential GOP victory wave comes as the party's conservative base is growing -- and as Republican belief in climate change is sinking.
In 2008, 50 percent of conservatives said the effects of global warming were already occurring. That number dropped to 30 percent this year, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March. A survey by Yale and George Mason universities in July found that 38 percent of Republicans don't believe global warming is happening.
Those numbers are higher among registered voters who affiliate with the tea party. The conservative movement enters its first midterm election today with about 70 percent of adherents believing there's no solid evidence that the earth is warming, according to a Pew Research Center poll released last week.
Taken together, that means a wide swath of voters turning out to the polls today view climate change as a political issue promoted by the Democratic Party, not as a scientific one.
"In the Republican Party there's been a dramatic disassociation ... even acknowledging climate change is real," said Maibach. "There are very few people running on the GOP ticket that will acknowledge the scientific consensus underpinning climate change."
Economy trumps climate
President Obama was still trying to motivate his base on the eve of elections. He has campaigned hard to turn out the vote for weeks. Yesterday, he gave campaign-themed interviews to radio stations in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- all battleground states where Democrats could lose seats.
Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, on the other hand, is using anti-climate messaging to drive her own base to the polls in Delaware. O'Donnell, who beat cap-and-trade supporter Rep. Mike Castle in a Republican primary, is warning voters that Democrat Chris Coons could support a similar carbon plan this fall.
The winner of Delaware's Senate election will take office immediately to finish Vice President Joe Biden's Senate term. O'Donnell is infusing the race with urgency at the notion that she could block the lame-duck attempt to pass climate legislation. The warning is far-fetched; the Senate has no plans to consider cap and trade.
Still, the midterm elections are unlikely to pivot on climate issues. The stubborn economy and unemployment hold priority with voters.
Joshua Freed, director of the Clean Energy Initiative at Third Way, a think tank for centrist Democrats, cautions about reading too much into the nation's attitude on climate change through the election results.
"They're voting on the economy," he says of voters. "People are not flocking to the polls thinking about the president's energy policy one way or another."
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