The latest annual Colorado College Conservation in the West poll shows increasing concern among Western voters about climate change, as well as anxiety about related issues such as wildfires and water supplies.
In this election year, the 10th annual poll also found that four-fifths of those polled consider an elected official’s stance on issues involving water, air, wildlife and public lands to be important in deciding whether to support them, according to poll results issued Thursday. Forty-four percent call those factors a primary factor in their decision, up from 31 percent for states covered in the poll in 2016.
The poll found that two-thirds of respondents want their member of Congress to place more emphasis on protecting federal lands than on maximizing responsible oil and gas drilling and mining to produce more domestic energy.
“I think it’s clear that citizens in the West are aware of the immediate (conservation) challenges we face. They want leaders regardless of party to act swiftly and responsibly,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said in a conference call regarding the poll results.
The survey is a product of the college’s State of the Rockies Project. Four hundred registered voters were surveyed by phone in January in each of eight western states, including Colorado, for a total 3,200-person sample. The poll was conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel and Democratic pollster Dave Metz and has a margin of error of 2.65 percent overall and 4.9 percent in each state.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents were Republicans and 31 percent Democrats. Sixty-nine percent said they are conservationists. Sixty-two percent identified themselves as residents of cities or suburbs, and the rest as living in small towns or rural areas.
Respondents identified climate change as the first- or second-most-important environmental problem in each state surveyed (when adding up both climate change and global warming as concerns identified by those polled).
Climate change/global warming as a top concern among respondents has increased dramatically over the poll’s 10 years, from 5 percent in 2011 to 32 percent today when comparing the five states polled in both years, and 35 percent today when accounting for all eight states surveyed. Thirty-six percent of respondents to this year’s poll identified pollution as a top concern. Water (29 percent) and energy/oil/gas (15 percent) ranked third and fourth among top environmental problems identified by those surveyed.
About two-thirds of surveyed voters in the eight states view climate change as a serious problem, up from 55 percent of those surveyed in 2011. Nearly three-quarters of respondents say they want their congressional representatives and state governors to have a plan to cut carbon pollution contributing to climate change, with majorities of Democrat, Republican and independent voters all voicing that view.
Sixty percent say action on climate change is needed. A majority of voters in every state polled except Wyoming backs gradually increasing the use of renewable energy sources to 100 percent, the poll found.
Metz said the degree to which climate change is becoming a more bipartisan concern is striking. He said some partisan polarization over the issue remains, with Democrats more likely to volunteer climate change as a major concern than independents or Republicans. But voters who were polled all ranked climate change among their top-three environmental concerns regardless of party, which Metz said suggests a growing consensus around the urgency of the issue.
Metz said the research his firm has been doing this year involving primary voters reveals climate change to be not just the top environmental issue for them but a top issue overall, alongside things such as health care and education.
“So this issue really is one that is capturing a lot of voter attention,” he said.
He thinks related issues such as wildfires help explain the level of concern climate change now generate among votes.
About four out of five of those polled identified uncontrollable wildfires that threaten homes or property as being anywhere from a somewhat serious to an extremely serious problem.
A warmer climate also impacts water supplies, and 80 percent of respondents overall, and 83 percent in Colorado, consider inadequate water supplies to be some degree of a serious problem. Sixty-nine percent overall said those supplies are becoming less predictable each year.
Eighty percent of respondents worry about low water levels in rivers.
“Support for conservation on public lands has remained consistent and strong over the decade-long history of our poll,” Corina McKendry, director of Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project and an associate professor of political science at Colorado College, said in a news release. “The urgency and demand for action behind those feelings is now intensifying as voters in the West increasingly believe their lands and lifestyles are coming under attack from the impacts of climate change and energy development.”
More than 60 percent of respondents said the impacts of oil and gas drilling pose a somewhat serious, very serious or extremely serious problem, the survey found. But that ranks lower than the level of concerns about things such as microplastics in water, and the loss of pollinators such as bees and butterflies (both deemed by about four of five respondents to be a serious problem to varying degrees).
Sixty-nine percent of voters surveyed back increasing royalty rates for drilling on public lands, and 88 percent back requiring oil and gas companies to use updated equipment to prevent methane pollution.
Among other survey findings:
n 71 percent of voters viewed the Trump administration’s removal of some Clean Water Act protections as a bad change. Sixty-four percent held the same view regarding the administration’s move to allow more drilling beneath the habitat of the at-risk greater sage-grouse, and 67 percent opposed the administration’s actions to reduce protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
n More than two-thirds of Coloradans polled supported the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a public lands conservation measure that locally would prevent oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs. Only 46 percent of Colorado Republicans support the measure, though.
n 70 percent support full dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses offshore oil and gas royalties to pay for parks and conservation projects.
n 73 percent favor a national goal to protect 30 percent of America’s lands and oceans by 2030, an idea that received majority support across party lines.
That idea is one being touted by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. Udall also spoke on this week’s conference call about the poll results, and said the current administration is out of touch with today’s West and what Westerners want.
“The people of the West are speaking loud and clear. It’s time for us to listen on a bipartisan basis,” he said.