President Obama’s SOTU Proposals on Climate Change Resonate With Latinos

On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered the annual State of the Union Address.  When covering Latino reactions, the media is likely to focus on the President’s statements on immigration.  However, according to findings of a recent national survey of 805 Latino registered voters by Latino Decisions and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Latinos are deeply concerned about climate change and want the government to enact strong policies to limit carbon pollution that cause climate change [survey toplines].

Last night President Obama devoted a significant portion of his speech to environmental issues and clean energy.  He concluded this discussion by stating, “But the debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.  And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

President Obama’s statements on climate change resonate with Latino voters.  In the NRDC survey, Latinos were asked if they favored or opposed the president taking action to fight the carbon pollution that causes climate change, a robust 80% stated that they “somewhat to strongly favored” presidential action (see Figure 1).  In a related question, 78% of Latinos agreed (somewhat to strongly) with the more general statement, “We need strong government actions to limit climate change.”  The overwhelming support for presidential and government action on climate change is not surprising in light of previous surveys showing that the majority of Latinos display pro-environmental beliefs.  In fact, environmental issues come in second to immigration reform as a top policy issue for Latinos.  Latino Decisions co-founder Matt Barreto told the L.A. Times, “we should be thinking of climate and the environment as a core Latino issue.”

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Politicians should take heed of Latino environmental concerns in light of their growing political influence, especially in the upcoming mid-term congressional elections.  Indeed, congressional candidates could make significant inroads with Latinos by emphasizing their environmental records and proposals.  In the survey, Latinos were asked, “if your member of Congress issued a statement giving strong support to limit the pollution that causes climate change, would that make you feel more favorable or less favorable towards them?”  Over three-quarters of Latinos (78%) said they would feel “somewhat to much more favorable” (Figure 2). 

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Not only did Latinos respond positively to general questions about government action on climate change, but they were also enthusiastic supporters of specific policy proposals.  When presented with five ideas proposed by scientists to fight climate change, about 9 in 10 Latinos favored (somewhat/strongly):

  • better gas mileage for automobiles (92%)
  • use of renewable energy (92%)
  • limiting power plant carbon pollution (87%)
  • building energy efficient homes/buildings (94%) and
  • preparing communities for weather events like storms, floods and hurricanes (91%)

Although the pro-environmental attitudes of Latinos cut across all segments of the population, the survey shows that pro-environmental messages are particularly appealing to young Latinos, women, and those with higher levels of education.  This is an important finding since these groups constitute growing segments of the Latino electorate.

Latino political influence will be ascendant throughout the coming century.  Inevitably this will mean that policy priorities will reflect the interests and this community.  Our survey reveals that environmental issues are a top priority, and are likely to remain so because Latinos frequently feel the impacts of environmental problems up close.  Regrettably, their pro-environmental attitudes are often ignored in the mistaken assumption that Latinos are preoccupied with other issues.  Our survey shows that Latinos have much to say about air pollution, climate change, and other environmental issues.  Latinos are determined to take part in politics and engage in national debates on a wide-range of issues beyond immigration.  Protecting the environment is an area where Latinos are eager to have their voices heard.

About the Poll

Latino Decisions interviewed 805 total Latino registered voters, nationwide from November 25 – December 4, 2013. Respondents were interviewed in English or Spanish, at their discretion, by fully bilingual interviewers. The overall survey contains a margin of error of +/- 3.5% and on split sample items the margin of error is +/-4.9%. Respondents were reached using a blended sample of landline telephones, cell phones, and the Latino Decisions online web panel.

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