By Coral Davenport
WASHINGTON — A majority of Republicans — including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans — believe the world’s climate is changing and that mankind plays some role in the change, according to a new survey conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters.
The results echo a number of other recent surveys concluding that despite the talk of many of the party’s candidates, a significant number of Republicans and independent voters are inclined to support candidates who would back some form of climate action. It may also point to a problem facing Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination: The activists who crowd town hall meetings and Republican presidential caucuses and primaries might not reflect the broader attitude of even the Republican electorate.
The survey was commissioned by Jay Faison, a North Carolina businessman who calls himself a conservative Republican and has announced that he intends to spend $10 million on efforts to lobby Republicans to embrace the issue of climate change. He has spent $165 million to start a nonprofit foundation, ClearPath, aimed at promoting climate change and clean energy policies that could appeal to conservatives.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Faison said he has recently spoken by phone to “most” of the Republican candidates, as they have sought his financial contributions to their campaigns.
“There’s a shortlist of guys who can give at that level, and I’m on it,” he said.
Mr. Faison hired three prominent Republican pollsters to conduct the survey: Whit Ayres, who works for the presidential campaign of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Glen Bolger, a three-time winner of the American Association of Political Consultants’ “Republican Pollster of the Year;” and Kristen Soltis Anderson, author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up).”
“At the moment some of the louder voices in the party are dominating this debate,” said Ms. Anderson in an interview. “But as we move out of the entertainment phase of the campaign and look at more of the policy platforms, there’s a way for Republicans to talk about this that depoliticizes climate.”
On the campaign trail, the leading Republican presidential contenders question or deny human-caused climate change. In an interview on CNN last week, Donald J. Trump said, “I don’t believe in climate change.” In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle this month, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who, along with Mr. Trump, is at the top of many recent polls said, “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.”
While such statements sit well with many conservative activists, the new survey found that 73 percent of all voters and 56 percent of Republicans do believe the climate is changing. Fewer than a third of Republicans think the climate is changing because of purely natural cycles, and only 9 percent think the climate is not changing at all, the survey found. It also found that 72 percent of Republicans support accelerating the development of renewable energy sources.
Democrats, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, have sought to paint Republicans who question climate change as deniers of science who are out of touch with the mainstream.
Mr. Faison and the Republican pollsters said that in order to avoid that characterization, Republicans need to move beyond questioning and start offering solutions.
At the same time, President Obama’s regulatory efforts to curb climate change have put pressure on Republican presidential candidates to speak out in opposition. Mr. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency regulations are aimed at pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republican leaders, including all the leading presidential candidates, have criticized the rules as job-killing government overreach.
Ms. Anderson described the survey as a way to find a path for Republican candidates to straddle the line between denying climate science and rejecting Mr. Obama’s policy.
The survey asked respondents to react to a series of proposed policy solutions to climate change, ranging from E.P.A. regulations to the imposition of a carbon pollution tax on electric utilities, which would then be rebated to consumers.
Only 10 percent of Republicans said they would support E.P.A. regulations — which are designed to cut the use of fossil fuels as a source of electricity, and greatly ramp up the use of wind and solar power. But 83 percent of Republicans said the nation should ramp up the use of such energy sources.
And while Mr. Obama’s efforts to push some form of price on carbon pollution failed in Congress, the Republicans’ survey found that 54 percent of conservative Republicans would support a carbon tax if the money were rebated, and 54 percent supported a five-year tax credit to promote renewable energy.
Conservative organizations, backed by strenuous opponents, say the policies remain political liabilities.
“In a Republican primary, or frankly in a general election, to enact the policy agenda of the global warming movement is a political loser,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by Charles G. and David H. Koch. “If a candidate came out in favor of a carbon tax — that is clearly a political loser,” he said.
Among the policies that won the greatest support were those that would promote installation of rooftop solar panels. Eighty-seven percent of conservative Republicans supported such policies, if they would allow homeowners to save money by selling electricity back to the power company. Sixty-six percent of conservative Republicans said they would support policies that would require electric utilities to include renewable power in their generation mix.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times on September 28, 2015.