As Democrats get ready for Miami debate, new poll shows Floridians want action on climate change

Sunny-day flooding on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Wikimedia Commons

A day before the first Democratic presidential debate takes place in low-lying Miami, there are great hopes that climate change will be at the center of the discussion.

A new poll shows that 71 percent of Florida voters support government action to address climate change, with 43 percent strongly supporting it. That’s according to a survey published by the group Climate Nexus, taken in partnership with the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The survey of 1,558 registered voters has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

The poll found that more Florida voters say they’d be more likely to support a candidate who is in favor of a clean energy portfolio than any other issue position tested – including banning semi-automatic assault rifles in Florida (64 percent), establishing universal health care in the U.S. (63 percent) or legalizing marijuana for recreational use (58 percent).

“Climate change really is now a top-tier issue among Florida voters, especially Florida Democrats,” said Dr. Ed Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. “We’ve seen this dramatic shift particularly over the past five years in the proportion of Americans who are worried about global warming.”

Fewer than five and a half minutes were devoted to climate change in the three 2016 presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Democrats say the issue has gotten more serious and can’t be ignored this time around, prompting some activists (as well as one presidential candidate Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington) to call on Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to host a separate climate change debate for the candidates, but he declined to do so.

“Every debate that the Democratic presidential candidates have should be a climate debate,” says Tampa Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, now the chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, speaking to reporters Tuesday.

“The climate – and climate solutions – and how we move to a clean energy economy should be one of the most important issues discussed in every single debate among the Democratic presidential candidates,” Castor said.

Nearly three in four (74%) of voters surveyed in the new poll say they would be more likely to support a candidate for political office who favors setting a national renewable energy portfolio standard of 100 percent by 2050, including 19 percent who say they would only support candidates who favor making the U.S. a 100 percent  clean energy country.

Noting how her home city of Tampa had its hottest month of May ever (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that last month was the hottest May in Florida in more than a century), Castor says the issue is personal for Floridians.

“The climate crisis is personal to each one of us,” she said. “We want to hear which candidate has the plan, the know-how, the wherewithal, to tackle the climate crisis.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups have announced a rally planned for Thursday night before the second Democratic presidential debate. Representatives from groups including NextGen Florida, ReThink Energy Florida, Our Climate and the Miami Climate Alliance say they will convene at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, and then march to the Adrienne Arsht Center at 7:30 p.m.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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