The partisan political rhetoric has been fierce in the weeks since President Barack Obama unveiled an ambitious package of proposals to combat climate change.
But a bipartisan national poll conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council found two-thirds of registered voters approve of one of the plan’s most controversial components, setting limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants.
That includes support from 49 percent of Republicans. Almost as many Republicans, 45 percent, oppose carbon emissions limits.
Democratic support for that proposal was 84 percent, while independent support was 56 percent.
Republican pollster Robert Carpenter, president of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, said he was surprised at the level of Republican support and noted that Republicans offered stronger support for the other components of the plan, including investments in renewable energy, increasing efficiency standards for new vehicles, appliances and buildings and strengthening communities against the effects of climate change.
“This is something the American people are strongly behind,” said Peter Altman, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air campaign. “They’re behind it from both parties.”
In a speech last month, Obama said he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to propose new carbon dioxide emission standards for existing power plants within a year, with a final rule expected no sooner than June 2015. He also directed the EPA to re-propose a stalled plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.
Jay Campbell, a Democratic pollster and senior vice president of Hart Research Associates who worked on the poll with Carpenter, said the level of Republican support indicates that the popular view of the EPA as a “villain” in Republican circles may not be true.
“The EPA may not be as popular among Republicans as it is with Democrats, but I think this poll shows that … they would support the EPA setting standards on power plants,” Campbell said.
The poll, conducted by landline and cell phone with 808 registered voters in early July, has a 3.5 percent margin of error.
“Clearly there’s a lot more intensity among Democrats and independents,” Campbell said. “But that’s not to say Republicans don’t think (climate change) is a problem. They do.”
The pollsters said they found a gender gap among Republicans and independents, something Carpenter said Republicans should be aware of in reaching out to women.
Campbell noted that the pollsters consciously branded the plan “as being President Obama’s plan,” knowing that might predispose Republicans to register disapproval.
Republican men disapproved in far higher numbers — 64 percent, compared to 40 percent for Republican women.
The individual components — each of which garnered high support — didn’t mention Obama.
“When you mention it’s the president’s plan, Republicans peel off,” Carpenter said. “But when you do individual components, Republicans are there.”