There’s new data on the opinions of Washington voters regarding action to address climate change. One week after voters rejected the carbon tax initiative (I-732), Seattle business leaders met in Seattle to discuss the future of carbon policy. The event began with the release of new poll numbers from research commissioned jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Vulcan Inc. The survey results reveal the critical defections that led to I-732’s defeat, and the strong, enduring support among Washington voters for action to address carbon pollution.

Opinion research firm FM3’s Dave Metz presented the results of a freshly completed poll on the opinions and beliefs of Washington State voters regarding I-732 and climate change more generally. FM3 conducted 602 interviews conducted with voters statewide in the days immediately following the election. The findings provided both post-mortem on why voters did not enact the carbon tax initiative (I-732) and insight into the significant enduring appetite among voters for action to address climate change.

The first chunk of the analysis covered patterns of support and opposition for I-732. 41% voted Yes and 59% voted No. Just two of Washington’s 39 counties voted Yes: King and San Juan. Roughly 30% of Washingtonians reside in King County. According to Metz, beyond the geographic pattern “opposition also cut across a pretty wide range of demographic groups within the Washington electorate.” It was opposed by 63 percent of men, 56 percent of women, and majorities in all four of Washington’s major media markets.

Among the roughly two-thirds of Washington voters that support action by state government to address climate change, 43% voted No. “Ultimately it was defections from the progressive base paired with the strong opposition from more conservative voters” that led to I-732’s defeat.

Metz concluded, based on the survey data, that a large majority of voters lacked knowledge about I-732 and made their decisions strictly based off ballot language. He noted that only 20% of voters said they had “heard a great deal about I-732.” In contrast, “nearly 60% said they had heard a great deal about ST-3” by the time they voted. Voters on both the Yes and No sides demonstrated a general lack of knowledge regarding specific elements of the ballot measure.

Looking forward, Metz posed the question: “Is the rejection of I-732 a sign of diminished enthusiasm for addressing the issue of climate change among Washington voters?” He told the crowd, “the answer is unequivocally ‘no.’” FM3’s survey replicated questions that were previously asked in Washington State about concern for climate change. He said that enthusiasm for addressing climate change was either identical or in some cases greater than it was in the past.

Over 80% of Washington voters said they “are sure climate change is occurring.” 62 percent of voters said they believe it’s caused mostly by human activities. Roughly three-quarters of the electorate said they believe climate change will impact their lives personally. 69% of Washington voters said they support the state of Washington taking action to reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change, including 48% that hold that position “strongly.” Statewide 61% said they are more likely to support a state legislator who steps up to take action addressing climate change. Only 26% said they would be less likely to support such a legislator.

Metz described a particular question as “probably the most telling one in the entire survey. We read people three statements and asked them to tell us which one came closest to their opinion.”

  • 38% of voters told us: “Even if I-732 is not perfect, it’s an important step forward in fighting climate change.”
  • 29% of voters said: “I-732 is too flawed. I support action on climate change but want to wait for a better measure.”
  • Only 23% chose the option: “Washington State does not need to take additional action on climate change.”

This means there’s a 67% majority saying they want to take action on climate change. The bottom line is a strong consensus remains in Washington State on taking action to address climate change. Given the move towards Republican governance on the federal level, Metz offered a prediction: “My suspicion is it’s only going to become more likely… that voters at the state level feel more responsibility and more desire to do something locally to make sure this issue is addressed if they feel progress is being set aside.”