If the Public is With You, Why the Crafty Poll Questions?

An e-mail from Mike Catanzaro over at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee raises some very good questions about polling done on a global warming bill the U.S. Senate voted on last week:

One of the many canards about the Lieberman-McCain bill (S. 139) is the notion that the American public overwhelmingly supports it, and mandatory greenhouse gas reductions more generally. This is something supporters argued in last week’s debate, and will repeat with greater vehemence in the coming months. Opponents, as the argument goes, are guilty of obstructing the “will” of the people, something that, apparently, is fairly easily and readily identifiable. To find it, and discern its meaning, Lieberman-McCain supporters point to a recent Zogby poll, which found that “75 percent of Americans want the U.S. Congress to take action now to stop global warming,” according to Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. “The numbers speak for themselves,” Jeremy Symons, climate change manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said of the poll. “Americans want action now on global warming, and they clearly support the moderate approach being offered by Senators McCain and Lieberman.”

FACT: The Zogby poll provides no evidence of overwhelming support for S. 139 or Kyoto-style restrictions on energy use. Consider the questions: “Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman have proposed legislation to begin addressing global warming. If enacted, the bill would — for the first time — require major industries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, these industries would be required to reduce emissions to year 2000 levels within the next 7 years. How you feel about this proposal?” Not surprisingly, 75 percent “feel” pretty good about it, because the question says nothing about costs, who pays them, or what it means–both for consumers and the economy — to reduce emissions to 2000 levels. Here’s another: “Addressing global warming by requiring major industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve the environment without harming the economy. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree?” Again, many respondents thought that sounded plausible as an abstract proposition. Instead, w hat might the reaction be to this question: “How would you feel about this legislation if you knew that, when fully implemented, it would increase your electricity bill by 46 percent?” Or: “How would you feel about this bill if you knew that, when fully implemented, it would impose a tax of $1,000 on every American household?” Or even: “Would you support the Kyoto Protocol if you knew it would impose substantial burdens on the poor, elderly, and minorities?”

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