SALEM — Oregon and Washington residents across the political spectrum agree climate change is a problem, but many think the measures that their state governments are taking to address the issue are the wrong approach, according to a survey.
The survey found 97% of Democrats, 86% of Independents and 64% of Republicans said they think climate change is “definitely” or “probably” happening, according to the poll.
The results represent a stark contrast with national opinions on global warming, which 97% of climate scientists agree is being caused by human activity. While a gap remains between Democrats and Republicans, in the Pacific Northwest the divide is only 33 points, as opposed to a 46-point chasm nationwide.
That might be due to a long history of bipartisan concern for the environment in the region, said Paul Manson, a visiting political science professor at Reed College.
“In the Pacific Northwest, there has long been a broader tradition of conservation values that bridges party affiliation, most famously linked to Oregon Gov. Tom McCall,” Manson said. “Despite the heightened partisanship of our current era, this tradition persists in our region and might be a path forward for meaningful policy change.”
Experts have long predicted the Northwest would see increased temperatures, prolonged periods of drought and more intense fire seasons as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere grow.
Many of those predictions have come to pass recently, with more than two-thirds of Oregon in severe drought and thousands of residents reeling from massive wildfires exacerbated by warming conditions.
Though the evidence of a warming climate has been enough to convince people of both parties in the Northwest, finding workable solutions has proved difficult.
Twice in the past three years, Republican lawmakers in the state have fled the Oregon Capitol to deny Democrats the opportunity to vote on a measure that would implement a so-called “cap and invest” strategy to cut the state’s carbon emissions. The bill would have put a cap on emissions that would have steadily decreased over time and required large polluters to acquire “allowances,” either in a state auction or from other participants trading on a secondary market.
After the second Republican walkout, the governor issued an executive order earlier this year that codified many of the goals of the failed legislation, but she did not have the authority to implement the cap-and-invest system, instead telling state agencies to make curbing emissions their top priority.
In Washington state, a 2019 bill that would have imposed a tax on carbon emissions also failed.
The survey found that respondents did not favor market-based solutions to the climate problem like carbon taxes and cap and invest. Instead, the survey found Oregon and Washington residents preferred direction action by the government, including strict limits on the amount of carbon emissions and enforcement on those who fail to comply. Respondents also favored raising taxes on high-income earners to fund environmental initiatives.
Chris Koski, a professor of political science and environmental studies at Reed College, said the results came as a bit of a shock.
“Washington and Oregon climate politics over the past two legislative sessions have focused heavily on failed efforts to create carbon markets and failed ballot initiatives to levy carbon taxes,” Koski said in a statement. “It is somewhat surprising, then, Democrats and Republicans favor regulation over markets. This stands in contrast to multiple campaigns at the state and federal level over the past two decades for cap-and-trade legislation.”
The survey, which was conducted by Northwest Policy Priorities Project, polled 500 adult residents in both Oregon and Washington between Sept. 1 and Sept. 11. The margin of error was 4 points.