Poll: Most Floridians are concerned about climate change

It gauges voter sentiment on environmental issues during a contentious race for governor.
Published July 25 2014
Updated July 26 2014

Nearly eight in 10 likely Florida voters want limits on carbon pollution from power plants and up to 71 percent say they're concerned about climate change, according to a new poll conducted for an environmental group during the hotly contested governor's race.

"The takeaway from this poll is simple: People think carbon pollution is a problem, and they think our political leaders should take action and fight pollution," said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sponsored the poll of 1,005 likely voters by SurveyUSA.

The survey's timing has both a policy and political dynamic:

It gauges voter sentiment on a range of environmental issues, including opinions about an Environmental Protection Agency draft rule limiting carbon emissions, which the poll says 59 percent strongly favor.

It's an election year in which Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, a believer in man-made climate change due to carbon emissions. A separate SurveyUSA poll this week indicated Crist leads by as much as 5 percentage points, but a Quinnipiac University survey at the same time found the race essentially tied.

Scott, who once said he didn't believe in man-made climate change, now won't comment on the matter, saying only that "I'm not a scientist."

In response, a group of climate scientists recently asked to meet with Scott. After initially demurring, Scott said through spokespeople he'd soon meet with the researchers. No date has been set.

Crist met with one of the climate scientists, FSU oceanography professor Jeff Chanton, at the Florida Press Center on Friday in Tallahassee. On his way there, though, Crist flew on the private jet of a developer once fined for pollution in the Panhandle — a fact that helped the Scott campaign pillory Crist for conducting a "publicity stunt" that backfired.

Crist, pointing out that Scott has his own private jet, fired back by saying Scott is hiding from the issues of the day and won't talk about what matters to people, like climate change.

The NRDC poll, however, doesn't specifically address a core political controversy over climate change: whether voters believe it's driven by man-made carbon emissions.

Asked about the severity of climate change, 47 percent of respondents said it was "very" serious and 24 percent said it was "somewhat" serious. Taken together, it indicates 71 percent of likely voters find it's a serious issue, compared with 27 percent who indicate it's not that big of a deal.

Compared with Democrats and independents, Republicans are the least concerned about the issue, with 53 percent saying it's serious and 45 percent saying it really isn't. Republicans are evenly split when it comes to being most or least alarmed, with 26 percent saying it's a very serious issue and 26 percent saying it's "not serious."

While Scott isn't comfortable discussing his views on climate change, he mentions the accomplishments of his administration when it comes to spending money to clean Florida's natural springs, its reservoirs and the waters in the Florida Keys.

"We've done a lot on the environment. I've made it a priority," he said last week when asked if he'd meet with the climate scientists.

"If you stop and think about it, we've had a historic settlement on the Everglades, which had been in litigation that had gone on for decades," Scott said. "And my likely opponent has done none of these things when he was governor. He made none of these things a priority."

Crist did make environmental projects a priority, and set in motion an Everglades land-buying program, but it was greatly reduced in scope. He also presided during the recession, when the state budget shrank and environmental projects were less of a priority than funding schools, health care programs and courts.

By contrast, with the economy booming during Scott's term, the state budget is larger than ever, $70.1 billion, and has something for nearly every special interest this election season.

"I noticed that my opponent, Rick Scott, would not meet with this wonderful scientist," Crist said at the press conference, adding that Scott "was not going to meet" with Chanton until "I accepted the opportunity to do so. It makes a great statement about the two different views of the world by the two of us, myself and Rick Scott."

Regardless of who spent what or who met with whom, 60 percent of the SurveyUSA respondents said the state should do more to prepare for climate change, 24 percent said the state has done enough and 16 percent aren't sure.