The gist: GOP pollster Frank Luntz—yes, the guy who devised the term “death tax” and coined the name “Clear Skies Act” for legislation that eased pollution limits on power plants—has done as much as anyone to thwart progress on federal climate and energy policy. After all, he’s the one who advised the Bush administration to hype “scientific uncertainty” as a reason to delay action—a strategy that’s had devastating effects.

So, it’s quite a surprise to find Luntz working to promote limits on climate-warming pollution. He recently released messaging research (with Environmental Defense Fund), focused on cap and trade, showing that McCain and Obama voters agree that it’s time for action on climate change—but not necessarily for the reasons you might think…

This month’s Flashard: Frank Luntz’s “words that work” to cement bi-partisan support for climate policy.

General guidelines:

  • Americans relate to “health” and “safety” more than “clean.”
  • Security tops every other reason to support cap and trade. (Climate remains near the bottom; creating a “new energy economy” doesn’t do too well either.) Ending dependence on Middle Eastern oil is a message that Luntz’s research indicates works for Americans all along the political spectrum. However, to avoid a default to support merely for more domestic fossil fuel extraction, messages should focus on security from dirty fuels — not just foreign or Middle Eastern oil — and on a shift to healthy, safe, home-grown energy that can never run out.
  • Talking about accountability for polluters speaks to our core values of fairness and responsibility—it’s more effective than messages about our obligation to the planet or future generations.
  • Forget messages about polar bears. Instead, emphasize how cap and trade legislation will create jobs. And not just “green jobs,” but well-paid, permanent, American jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Language that works across party lines:

Accountability and Responsibility
49 percent say that the following message instills confidence that cap and trade will work to reduce emissions:

Cap and trade will limit the amount of pollution companies can emit, rewarding those who reduce emissions—and holding accountable those who don’t.

Security, Safety, and Health
46 percent agree that energy independence is a matter of national security and that…

whatever you think about climate change, cap and trade will liberate us from our addiction to dirty energy by developing safe, reliable, healthy sources of energy here at home.

Permanent, American Jobs
Strong majorities across party lines found “permanent” and “American” to be powerful words to describe jobs created by cap and trade:

Cap and trade will spark an economic boom in home-grown energy technology and production, creating hundreds of thousands of good, permanent, American jobs.

60 percent said the following paragraph would convince them that we need to do something about dirty energy now:

Imagine a future where energy in the US is abundant, affordable, and safe. Imagine feeling secure knowing that our nation can produce its own energy instead of relying on Middle Eastern oil. Imagine an economic boom that creates high-paying, permanent, American jobs. We don’t have to imagine it—clean, safe energy already exists. All we have to do is use it. So let’s start. Now.

Read Frank Luntz’s research report>>

Go to recent Sightline blog posts on messaging about climate policy>>

Who Said It?

Icon of person and question mark“America needs to lead—but if we’re going to lead we need to get into this race…And we need millions of good-paying, clean energy jobs that..can’t be shipped overseas. We can get there with strong clean energy and climate legislation.” — Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Read more>>

More climate and energy messaging tips:

Cap and Trade—In Pictures
Metaphor and analogy—vivid pictures—help us get a handle on abstract ideas. Click here for Sightline’s visual guide to cap and trade >>

Cap and Trade—Winning on Economic Terms
More than ever, our messages need to connect energy security, economic recovery, and smart climate policy. Click here for Sightline’s talking points >>

Green Jobs Messaging Guide
Sightline conducted a media audit and developed a messaging guide for green-jobs advocates. Click here for Sightline’s Green-jobs messaging guide >>

July 2, 2010