WASHINGTON - Most Americans want the jobs and clean energy that Democratic-backed climate-change legislation could help bring but its backers are presenting the wrong messages, according to a prominent U.S. pollster.
The House of Representatives last June passed a climate bill featuring a cap-and-trade market on so-called greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. But the measure has been bogged down in the Senate and faces an uncertain future.
If you really want to scare Americans it's not about glaciers that are melting or the struggle of the polar bear, said the pollster and political adviser Frank Luntz, most known for his work with Republicans.
What scares Americans is the idea that this great technological industry will be developed in China or India rather than America, said Luntz, who once advised former President George W. Bush's administration to emphasize that there was a lack of scientific certainty about climate change.
Luntz is a paid adviser to 21 companies in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership that are urging Congress to pass legislation requiring reductions in greenhouse gases.
Passing the climate bill in the Senate became more difficult this week after Republican Scott Brown, who opposes capping emissions, won the Massachusetts Senate seat held until his death last year by Democrat Edward Kennedy.
Luntz said polls his company conducted late last year showed that a combined 65 percent of respondents stated that climate change exists and action needs to be taken, or that the science was not settled but people should explore ways to cut emissions and adopt clean energy. This is true of Republicans and Democrats alike, he said.
Only 13 percent of the 1,007 registered U.S. voters nationwide questioned in the poll said global warming and climate change do not exist. More than 54 percent said the new energy economy must create new jobs and careers in America.
Frank's research proves that no matter who Americans voted for in 2008, in 2010 they want to see Congress act on climate legislation, Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund activist group who favors the climate bill, said.
Backers of the cap-and-trade bill have emphasized climate science too much, and the potential positive results from a clean-energy bill -- domestic jobs, a healthier environment, and potentially less money sent to the Middle East for oil -- too little, Luntz said.
Wording is important in drumming up support for the bill, he added. Backers should emphasize it would create American jobs rather than green jobs, while Americans want reliable technology more than smart technology, he said.
Poll respondents who were Democrats or Republicans believed the most important environmental and economic goal for the United States should be cutting dependence on foreign fuel and halting pollution of the air and water. Ending climate change came in last of the 10 priorities in that category.
Under cap and trade legislation, the federal government would limit how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could be released into the atmosphere by utilities, factories and oil refineries.
Over the next 40 years, companies would have a dwindling number of permits for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Those relying more on cleaner alternative fuels could sell, or trade, permits to those relying more on dirty fossil fuels.
(Editing by Will Dunham)