Concern about climate change has grown significantly for voters in western states like Montana, according to the most recent installment of the Colorado College State of the Rockies poll.
“Every single state we tracked saw a jump up in responses,” pollster Lori Weigel said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. The ninth annual poll started asking how worried people were about climate change in 2016. The number concerned has grown in every state every year, she said.
Weigel works for a Republican-focused polling firm, and teams up with Democratic pollster David Metz to conduct the survey. The poll by landline and cellphone calls reached 3,200 registered voters in eight states between January 2 and 9.
In Montana, 54 percent of 2016 participants said climate change was a very or extremely serious issue. By 2019, that had grown to 70 percent. Across all eight states examined, the slice of Republicans very or extremely concerned grew from 37 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2019. Democrats were at 81 percent in 2016 and rose to 93 percent three years later.
“This shows state voters view climate change as a major threat to our way of life,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said during the conference call. Climate-related challenges such as a shrinking water supply affect industries from agriculture to skiing, Polis said.
The poll found voters disliked several recent moves by the Trump administration, including the reduction of protections for national monuments, limits on public input to executive actions and restrictions on the scope of the Clean Water Act.
Asked about what priorities they wanted to see in the Department of Interior, more than twice as many respondents wanted more science-based decisions and emphasis on conservation of wildlife than wanted increased energy development or access to public lands.
Metz said the most striking finding was how Western voters viewed conservation issues compared to the priorities seen in Washington, D.C.
“Conservation, rather than resource extraction, was guiding our management of these lands,” Metz said. “We saw that in every state in the region.”
Voters also objected to the reduction of federal resources to care for public lands. Metz said over three years, the share of participants concerned about those funding reductions grew from about 20 percent to 41 percent in 2019. They displayed increased willingness to put their own dollars on the line: three in five said they would increase local taxes to fund conservation priorities. In Montana, two-thirds of those polled said they supported increased local taxes for the outdoors.
That support also crossed the political divide, Metz said. When sorted for party preference, the poll found 53 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats favored increased local taxes for conservation programs.
Metz said overall, 24 percent of the respondents favored more domestic energy production on western public lands. In Montana, six out of 10 voters prioritized caring for public lands and clean water compared to two in 10 who wanted more energy development. In neighboring Idaho, the split was 64-23 percent in favor of more conservation.
Concern over wildfire has grown over the decade, Weigel said. When asked what they thought was the driver, 36 percent said climate change and 30 percent said drought. Seven percent said decreases in commercial logging was to blame, and 26 percent pointed to lack of thinning of underbrush.
Metz said nationwide polls have shown climate change has become a rallying election issue, especially for Democratic candidates. But the surveys also showed climate change concern crossed party lines.
“In a lot of races this past November, a lot more voters mobilized around the issue of climate change,” Metz said. “That will likely to be the case in 2020.”
Conservation issues have a growing impact on elections, according to Amy Roberts, Outdoor Industry Association executive director. Her organization decided to run social media campaigns raising outdoor recreation and conservation as voter issues in Montana, Colorado and Utah. The following elections supported an open space bond in Montana, and increased sales taxes for parks and trails in Colorado, Roberts said.
A dozen state governments, including Montana, have added outdoor recreation offices and Roberts said another seven are expected to soon. That puts outdoor businesses on the same advocacy footing as technology, agriculture and aerospace industries that have long enjoyed similar governor's-office support.
Each state got 400 participants in the poll, weighted for even representation of Republican, Democratic and independent voters. The results have an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.65 percent, while individual states’ margin is 4.9 percent.