Polling Shows Importance of Engaging Ag Leaders in Discussions on Climate Change

July 16, 2020

Using the findings from focus groups and national polling data, researchers have found that while climate change attitudes are polarized across this nation’s urban/rural divide, there are more broadly popular policies that incentivize the contribution that agriculture can make toward mitigating climate change and offer economic benefits to rural communities.

According to a regional study by scientists with Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University of Rhode Island on data specific to climate change attitudes among rural voters living in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, support for taking action on climate change jumped significantly when that action was explicitly tied to also helping farmers.

Appropriate compensation to farmers for implementing new and often more costly practices and technology to take on climate change is a principal policy objective pursued by Solutions from the Land.

Authoring the report were Robert Bonnie, Executive in Residence at the Nicholas Institute and a member of the SfL Senior Advisory team; Emily Pechard Diamond, an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island; and Elizabeth Rowe, a master’s degree candidate in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Rural voters were less supportive of government oversight of the environment, and they were generally reticent to talk about climate change with their friends and neighbors, given the polarization and controversy surrounding the issue. Additionally, they ranked climate change as less important than other environmental protection priorities.

Partisanship remains the strongest predictor of climate attitudes in both urban/suburban and rural communities, the researchers say. Democrats were more likely to think it is important for the United States to take action to reduce climate change than independents or Republicans. Even perceptions of weather changes and vulnerability to climate impacts depended on partisanship, with rural Republicans reporting experiencing less extreme weather changes than rural Democrats.

The research team says that while there is polarization on climate change among rural voters, there are policy solutions that draw their support, including policies that reduce pollution from power plants, those that strengthen rural communities against extreme weather events, and those that make vehicles more fuel efficient.

Policies that incentivize the contribution that agriculture can make toward mitigation and those that offer economic (as well as environmental) benefits to rural communities were also popular. In fact, in the midwestern survey, rural voter support for taking action on climate change jumped more than 20 percent when it was framed as a form of farmer support. This perspective also substantially boosted support among rural Republicans.

The research team said that given the polarization around climate change, communicating effectively with rural voters on the topic is critical. Rural voters in the Midwest region continue to prefer moderate, practical messaging about climate change, and were particularly motivated by messages emphasizing the impact of climate change on weather and agriculture.

In particular, messages that emphasized that climate change policies will help farmers continue to make a living and those that emphasized the need to protect resources for farming communities and future generations were particularly convincing. Evidence was also found that such messages on climate change may increase the perceived importance of climate policies, particularly among rural women.

The Nicholas Institute study shows policymakers that it is crucial for those in the agriculture sector to be fully engaged in efforts to address climate challenges if progress is to be made. SfL, with its myriad of farmer-led climate smart agriculture initiatives around the country, stands ready to help bring lawmakers and other policy leaders together with farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to ensure the success of efforts to reverse these dangerous climate trends and simultaneously deliver high value ecosystems services like food, clean water and biodiversity from the land.

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