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Slim majority backs carbon-fuel tax

Poll: Dems, GOP differ sharply on cause of warming

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: LON AUSTIN - DHMS latest survey revealed that Oregonians have a strong love for their home state, and therefore, the environment. Oregonians are more likely than Americans as a whole to believe the Earth is warming and its due to human-caused activity. However, there still is a lot of skepticism about climate change here - especially among Republicans.A majority of Oregonians say they’d support a tax on carbon-based fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s not a strong enough majority to uphold such a tax if it appeared on the ballot.

A February opinion survey by Portland-based DHM Research found 28 percent of Oregonians “strongly support” a carbon tax and another 23 percent “somewhat support” such a tax. While that’s a 51 percent majority, history shows any viable tax measure on an Oregon ballot should start with a higher level of support if it’s going to pass. That’s because an opposition campaign inevitably will whittle away some voters who are initially supportive.

“You wouldn’t want to go to the ballot with that,” said Adam Davis, founding principal of DHM Research and a veteran local pollster.

The poll results provide a clue why the movement for a carbon tax at the Oregon Legislature seems to have lost some steam, with many advocates now saying it’s unlikely to pass this legislative session, despite strong Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.

DHM Research conducted a scientific survey of 500 Oregonians on environmental topics for Pamplin Media Group. Its findings provide a snapshot of where the general population leans, which is a slightly different sample than registered voters.

“If anything, the general population is more favorable to the environment than registered voters,” Davis said. That’s because many younger adults are pro-environment but aren’t registered or don’t vote in high numbers.

The survey found 40 percent of Oregonians somewhat or strongly oppose a carbon tax, while 8 percent don’t have an opinion.

The survey has a margin of error of 4.4 percent, which means it could be off by that amount in either direction.

DHM Research found Oregonians are more likely than Americans as a whole to believe the Earth is warming and it’s due to human-caused activity. However, there still is a lot of skepticism about climate change here, especially among Republicans.

In all, 75 percent of Oregonians agreed there is “solid evidence” that the global climate is changing. However, only 54 percent of Oregonians agreed it’s “mostly because of human activity,” and 21 percent agreed it’s “mostly because of natural patterns in Earth’s environment.” Another 23 percent of Oregonians agreed there is “no solid evidence” that the climate is changing. That means, overall, that 46 percent of Oregonians aren’t convinced global warming is occurring or can be traced to human activity.

The survey found a stark difference in opinion on this question based on political party affiliations. Among Democrats, 91 percent agreed there’s solid evidence the Earth is warming and that it’s mostly human-caused, compared to only 15 percent of Republicans. Those numbers, pollsters say, show why it’s hard for many Republican lawmakers in Salem to publicly acknowledge the climate is warming even if they believe it themselves, because their constituents remain skeptics.

Among unaffiliated and independent voters, who are the main swing voters in Oregon, 48 percent believe the Earth is warming and it’s mostly human-caused.

“This is one of the challenges Republicans will have moving forward,” Davis said. “They run the potential of marginalizing themselves on an issue like this.”

In general, the survey found strong support for Oregon’s environment and efforts to protect it.

One question asked people to choose between “maintaining a quality environment to attract people and companies to Oregon” versus “relaxing environmental protection regulations to make it easier for companies to do business in Oregon.” That was no contest, with 70 percent favoring the first idea and only 23 percent favoring the relaxation of regulations.

There was a sharp partisan split, with 93 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans favoring the first choice. Unaffiliated and independent voters were more in Democrats’ camp; 75 percent favored the first alternative.

A majority of Oregonians — 55 percent — said it was strongly or somewhat desirable to restrict the mining or burning of coal because of its greenhouse gas impacts, while 34 percent said that was somewhat or strongly undesirable.

A large majority of Democrats — 79 percent — and 53 percent of independents favor such restrictions on coal, compared to 24 percent of Republicans. Those numbers could lend momentum for a bill before the 2015 Legislature that would force big private utilities to phase out coal-burning to supply electricity in the state.

When asked if there should be “stronger government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” 58 percent said they strongly or somewhat agree, while 37 percent said they somewhat or strongly disagree.

More Oregonians support government investments to nurture alternative fuels, with 75 percent saying they strongly or somewhat support that. Even 46 percent of Republicans support that.

DHM also asked respondents if they support “higher density development in and around their neighborhoods as a strategy to reduce urban sprawl.” Here there’s a large split between Portland metro-area residents and those elsewhere.

In Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, 53 percent said they strongly or somewhat strongly support higher density in their neighborhoods, versus only 27 percent in the rest of the state.

One of Davis’ takeaways from the survey is the strong love for the land that Oregonians continue to show, which translates into support for the environment.

If you’re a politician in the state today, he said, “you cannot allow yourself to be painted as anti-environmental.”

stevelaw@portlandtribune.com 503-546-5139

Twitter: @SteveLawTrib

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