Solar panels reflect the sun. (Getty)
(USA TODAY) - On the eve of the first presidential debate, a flurry of new polls suggest most Americans support clean energy and policies to reduce climate change - topics that have garnered scant attention on the campaign trail.
Nine out of 10 registered voters (92%) said it was "very" or "somewhat" important for the United States to develop and use solar power, according to an online survey of 1,206 adults released Tuesday by the independent polling firm Hart Research Associates. This support spanned the political spectrum, including 84% of Republicans, 95% of independents and 98% of Democrats.
"The consistency is very impressive," Molly O'Rourke, partner at Hart Research, told reporters during a news conference. She noted similar results when voters were asked how they view solar energy (85% favorably) and federal incentives for the industry (78% supportive). The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, commissioned the survey.
The results, along with those of two other recent polls, come as President Obama and his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, prepare for their first debate Wednesday. So far, climate change and clean energy have not been major campaign issues, but nine environmental organizations delivered more than 160,000 petitions Friday to the debate's moderator, Jim Lehrer, urging him to ask about them.
Another new survey found that 7% of likely voters remain undecided about how they'll vote, and most of them say global warming will be one of several important factors determining that, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change.
The undecideds are much more similar to likely Obama voters than likely Romney ones on climate change and energy-related attitudes and policy preferences, the survey found. For example, 80% say global warming is happening, compared with 86% for Obama backers and 45% for Romney supporters. The survey of 1,061 American adults, taken Aug. 31 to Sept. 12, was released Sept. 24.
Similarly, undecided voters in eight swing states - Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin - favor presidential and congressional candidates who support clean air and clean energy policies over those who don't, according to surveys of 22,412 likely voters released last week by Public Policy Polling.
By a roughly 2-to-1 ration (54% vs. 27%), these voters side with Obama's view that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to set standards to lower carbon pollution, rather than Romney's position that such limits would be bad for business and thus shouldn't be imposed, according to the survey sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Fund Action Fund, an environmental group.
The poll, taken Sept. 14 to Sept. 20, found that 50% of likely votes in these states would cast their ballot for Obama and 44% for Romney; 6% remain undecided. It also found that the undecideds favor congressional candidates who support "standards to reduce toxic mercury pollution from power plants" over those who oppose them (59% to 23%).
The presidential candidates have largely avoided the controversial topic of climate change. Yet it did come up briefly at the recent political conventions.
Romney, who as a presidential candidates has expressed doubts about the causes of climate change and has called for a broad expansion of fossil fuel drilling, mocked Obama's 2008 promise to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. "My promise...is to help you and your family," Romney said, drawing applause.
Obama, who's embraced an "all of the above" energy strategy that calls for renewable energy, nuclear power and limited oil and gas drilling, countered at the Democratic convention in September. "Climate change is not a hoax," he told delegates, also eliciting cheers. "More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future."