North Carolina voters across the spectrum want more renewables, even if they don’t pick their candidate on that issue.A spate of recent polls indicate Donald Trump’s victory in November should not be taken as a ratification of his energy policy. Last month, a Republican polling firm in North Carolina published a survey of voters in that state that found strong bipartisan approval for candidates who support expanding renewable generation and energy efficiency. That’s notable in this politically significant state, which swung for Obama in 2008 but voted Republican in the last two presidential elections. It elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in November, but he has to contend with a strong Republican majority in the legislature.
The pollsters have three years of data showing that, while politicians who push for more fossil fuel development attract Republicans and repel Democrats, politicians who expand clean energy choices can draw a broad base of voter support. Meanwhile, the Trump administration moved ahead last week with plans to scrap President Barack Obama’s climate change policies, which were designed to shift electricity production away from coal and toward cleaner alternatives. The administration has prioritized coal extraction, while proposing budget cuts to Department of Energy programs that foster renewable energy innovation. The North Carolina poll, along with other studies, suggest that even people who voted for Trump have different priorities about the future of American energy. A few months ago a different Republican firm, Public Opinion Strategies, found that 75 percent of Trump voters surveyed wanted action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy.
This week, the latest nationwide Quinnipiac University Poll found that 76 percent of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about climate change, and 68 percent say it’s possible to tackle climate change while protecting jobs. Energy never became a top-line issue in the 2016 campaign. How does voter sentiment in favor of expanding renewable generation influence state and national energy policy that’s heading in the other direction?
North Carolina Republicans want more clean energy choices
Strategic Partners Solutions, a conservative issue management firm in Raleigh run by two veteran Republican political strategists, conducted the Carolina survey on behalf of Conservatives for Clean Energy. That client is interested in using renewable energy as an issue to get more Republicans elected; the pollsters want to understand voter sentiment. Whereas the expansion of fossil fuels divides the North Carolina populace, the poll results show, renewables have the potential to excite a diverse coalition. “You need to be looking for issues that lend themselves to a broader base of support rather than issues that have a narrow base of support,” said SPS Principal Paul Shumaker, who has advised state Republican leaders over the past 30 years including U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. “If you want to build a broader-base coalition around energy policy, clean energy has to be in the mix.”
A candidate who supports more fossil fuel development elicited mixed responses from voters — 76.4 percent of Republican voters said they were more likely to support, but 60.5 percent of Democrats and 51.8 percent of unaffiliated voters were more likely to oppose. When asked about a candidate “who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options such as wind, solar and waste to energy technologies,” 83.2 percent of the whole survey population said they were more likely to support. That number has been above 80 percent for all three years of the poll.