By Rob Jordan

A new series of studies by Stanford University researchers indicates that candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential election and the 2010 congressional elections won votes by taking green position on climate change and lost potential votes by taking anti-green positions on the issue.

The new research, led by Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Jon Krosnick, looked at three different measures of climate change’s influence on voting patterns.

First, an analysis of what 2010 congressional candidates said about climate change on their websites revealed that Democrats who took green positions on climate change (saying that it had been happening, was a problem that merited government attention, and supported policies to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions) won more often than Democrats who were silent on the issue. Republicans who took anti-green positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.

To reach these findings, the researchers had coders read each website and answer a series of questions about it. A statistical analysis taking into account the incumbency of some candidates and the partisan leanings of the voters indicated that when Democrats took green positions, they won much more often than when they remained silent on the issue.  Republicans were able to neutralize this gain by expressing green positions themselves.  And when the Democrat expressed a green position, expression of a skeptical position by the Republican appeared to backfire, enhancing the Democrat’s chances of victory.

In the second study, researchers described a hypothetical candidate running for Senate in the respondent’s state, and respondents reported how likely they were to vote for the candidate. Hearing the hypothetical candidate take a green position on climate change increased the proportions of Democrats and Independents who said they would vote for the candidate. Hearing the candidate express a skeptical view about climate change significantly reduced the proportions of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who said they would vote for the candidate.  The impact of candidate statements on voting inclination was especially pronounced among respondents who consider the issue of climate change to be highly important to them personally.

The third study of focused on survey data collected from a representative national sample of adults via the Internet before and after the 2008 U.S. residential election. In those surveys, respondents had said whether they supported or opposed government policies to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions and also reported what they believed Barack Obama’s and John’s McCain’s positions were on those same issues. After the election, the respondents had reported whether they had voted and for whom they had voted.

A statistical analysis showed that controlling for voters’ party affiliations, their ideological orientations, their views about the optimal size of government, their approval of President Bush’s job performance and many other factors, voting for Barack Obama was more likely among people who believed their views on climate change were more similar to his and more different from Mr. McCain’s.  Because the majority of voters expressed green positions on climate change policy, the candidates gained votes by being more green themselves.

The impact of similarity to the candidates on climate change issues was most pronounced among respondents who said they attached a great deal of personal importance to the issue.