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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New GQRR-Third Way Study: Moving Clean Energy to the Center — Insights from Swing Voters in the Midwest and South

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Third Way conducted focus groups in late 2011 with swing voters in Ohio and North Carolina to explore their views on clean energy and its link to innovation and economic growth. The results were telling. Despite the conventional, and incorrect, wisdom that the cap-and-trade debate, the politicization of climate change and the controversy over Solyndra have put a damper on support for clean energy, these swing voters continue to express a strong desire to get America running on clean energy. However, these focus groups show that supporters of clean energy may need a new approach to rallying the public to their cause and maximizing support for clean energy.
Key Findings

Swing voters in these traditional energy states express a VERY strong desire to see the US move to clean energy like wind and solar. Clean energy is very much seen as an engine of long-term economic and job growth.
However, voters are much more skeptical about its ability to “jump start” a recovery through an immediate boost in manufacturing jobs.Voters are extremely pessimistic about government’s ability to do anything right and don’t see it as a driver of innovation. That is part of the reason they are skeptical about direct government investment in energy infrastructure or R&D. However, these voters remain very supportive of the government acting as a “facilitator” for clean energy by providing incentives like tax credits and loan guarantees. That opinion holds up strongly even after attacks using Solyndra.
These voters are also generally supportive of a national renewable energy standard and compared it to fuel economy standards (in a positive way). Backers of clean energy can enhance support by tapping into concerns about pollution and a strong desire to move away from coal. But these voters don’t see climate change as a reason to move to clean energy. Instead of touting the benefits of action, the best frame may be to describe the negative consequences of inaction: That America’s economic competitors (especially China) will dominate the clean energy sector and reap the economic benefits, instead of uso While Americans are left behind with a dirty, expensive and outdated energy system.

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