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Energy and the Election, Part 1: The Name Game

The conservative’s spin game on clean energy legislation in Congress relies on a characteristic name game. One of their favorite names for it is cap-and-trade, in part because it’s unfriendly jargon and in part because no one really knows what it means. Still the polling for this policy shows it remains highly popular with the public, even with the use of this label, and even more so when the policy is accurately described.

One needs only to go to a publically available source of polling, such as, to validate this pattern from multiple, independent sources, even after the opposition’s PR onslaught following the passage of clean energy legislation by the House.

• USA Today/Gallup Poll (6/11-13/10): Do you favor or oppose Congress passing new legislation … [that would] regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming?’’ 56% favor/40% oppose

• ABC News/Washington Post Poll (6/3-6/10): Do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming?” 71% should/26% should not

• Pew Research Center Poll (2/3-9/10): “[D]o you favor or oppose setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices?” 52% favor/35% oppose

• Ipsos/McClatchy Poll (12/3-6/09): “There’s a proposed system called ‘cap-and-trade’ that some say would lower the pollution levels that lead to global warming.[further description follows]…Would you support or oppose this system?” 52% support/41% oppose

• Associated Press/Stanford University Poll (11/17-29/09): “There’s a proposed system called ‘cap-and-trade’. The government would issue permits limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out. [further description follows]…Would you favor or oppose this system?” 58% favor/37% oppose

• CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (10/16-18/09): “Under a proposal called ‘cap-and-trade,’ the federal government would limit the amount of greenhouse gases that companies could produce in their factories or power plants.[further description follows]…Would you favor or oppose this proposal?” 60% favor/37% oppose

Recently the NRDC Action Fund polled 23 competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives and found widespread support for passing clean energy legislation. Although the poll didn’t use the flattering name of the House bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or the cap-and-trade jargon, the poll did offer the opponent’s misleading attack that the bill would be a job reducing energy tax. By an impressive 20 point spread, the voters in these district said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported this legislation.   

The fact is that the public wants Congress and the administration to address energy issues, understands that it will take major investments to rid ourselves of our unsafe dependence on oil and to reduce pollution from it, knows this investment will create new jobs, and prefers a renewable energy path to get us there. What is even more remarkable about polls on this subject is how durable they are over the past year even as the conservative spin machine has hammered away at the concept and the administration’s clean energy proposal in Congress.

What should be obvious is that the American people care more about results than calling out names. The question should be: “Are you for or against a clean energy future for America?” Then we should let the public speak for itself.

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