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The Big-Money Effort To Turn The GOP Greener


Jay Faison wants the GOP to tackle climate change. Faison is a Republican businessman from North Carolina who is putting millions of dollars behind an effort to make the GOP greener. Faison commissioned a poll by three respected Republican pollsters that's just come out. It finds that most Republicans - 56 percent - say climate change is real and there is some human contribution to it. Even 54 percent of conservative Republicans agree with that. Jay Faison wants Republican candidates to appeal to that majority and to change the party's message.

JAY FAISON: And I think we've moved on from I'm not a scientist to this is a problem that can't be solved by America. Even if we do our part, the rest of the world won't do their part. That is sort of the current messaging that you're hearing from candidates. And I think this poll says that that - that the demographic message of increasing the size of government to put, you know, more regulation on a - polls better among Republicans than our current message. So I think there's a move that needs to be made towards accelerating what's already inevitable, which is a clean energy transition that'll create jobs, safeguard our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

SIEGEL: You tested various candidates' messages - the poll did - on voters. So here's one pairing that I found very interesting - candidate A says climate change is an urgent challenge and therefore we need to strengthen the EPA's restrictions on carbon emissions and significantly subsidize clean energy. Overall, 60 percent of the sample said that, yes, they agree with that. But among Republicans, and conservative Republicans - just about a third of the sample do. Candidate B says the science around climate change is not at all clear so the government should focus on other more important issues - that loses, overall, only 36 percent. Sixty-four percent of conservative Republicans agree with that. I mean, how do you understand that gap?

FAISON: Bigger government through the EPA is something that conservative Republicans will rail against. And so I think that's what you're seeing there is a reaction to that.

SIEGEL: Well, the poll finds broad support for some ideas, like getting credit back for electricity that you send back to the grid from solar panels at home. What about, say, cap and trade, a market in carbon credits? I don't see the phrase at all.

FAISON: Well, I think it's phrased as putting a tax on carbon pollution. You know, cap and trade has a negative reaction given its history. But if you look at George H. W. Bush and, you know - solved acid rain through cap and trade and then that worked quite well. In general, I think Republicans are in favor of a better environment without risking the economy.

SIEGEL: What do you say, though, to a Republican candidate who looks at your poll's findings and says this may be what you're finding in the poll, but here, in this red state where I'm in a primary, good luck with that message. I go out and I face crowds all the time who say those pointy-headed scientists are trying to pull one over on us.

FAISON: Well, some districts truthfully probably can't be turned, but a large portion can be. And we'll do polling down to the district level to do the political math on that.

SIEGEL: And the idea there is to try to show Republican candidates you would say that you probably can survive by taking a different position on climate change - much more open to solutions and admitting that it's a problem.

FAISON: Exactly. And not only can you survive, but you can advance your political position on this issue if you message it properly.

SIEGEL: You know, Rush Limbaugh said yesterday, I hope - half facetiously - that leftists will manage somehow to work the discovery of water on Mars into their agenda. He said, NASA has been corrupted by the current regime. How do you understand the suspicion of science that plays well, at least with some conservative audiences?

FAISON: Well, I think some people have made a good business on riling up the most conservative. I think Rush Limbaugh's built a very successful business, so that's his trade. And I think he's running out of material, frankly.

SIEGEL: Well, Jay Faison, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

FAISON: Thank you so much for having me.

SIEGEL: Jay Faison is the founding and managing partner of the ClearPath Foundation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.