Just when you thought climate had gone the way of partisan hot-buttons like guns and taxes, a national study released Tuesday by Stanford University shows that Republican candidates could win votes by taking “green” positions on climate change.

Yep. You heard that right. As The Daily Climate (via) Environmental Health News reports, “voters tend to favor political candidates who believe that humans have contributed to global warming and that the nation should take action by switching from fossil fuels to solar and wind power.” (At least as of last November when the survey was conducted.)

The team of researchers at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment found that by taking a “green position” on climate, candidates of either party can gain the votes of some citizens without alienating others.

It’s encouraging to say the least. But these findings should be taken with a grain of salt, especially during primary season when the political calculus involves more than the age-old campaign mantra “50 percent plus one.” Now is the time that candidates must define themselves and differentiate their political personas within the culture of their own parties. Likely with a mind to fire up the base (which happens to be the most ardently anti-science wing of the party), Republicans—at least at the presidential candidate level—are pretty much steering away “from anything suggesting governmental action on climate change.”

Still, the findings are pretty interesting. And there are useful messaging ramifications too.

In telephone interviews with 1,000 participants conducted last November, participants were asked how they would vote for a hypothetical Senate candidate in their state based on a series of issues, including climate change. According to the study, Democratic candidates who wish to attract Republican voters during general elections have nothing to gain or lose by the positions they take on climate. Doing so, they would likely attract Independents and perhaps to inspire Democrats to participate in the election. “Republican candidates have even more to gain by taking green positions on climate,” according to the study, because they may attract Independents as well as woo Democratic voters in general elections, especially if their Democratic opponents remain silent on climate.

Here’s more from the Daily Climate write-up:

Leading the Stanford research team was Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and political science, who has been looking at public attitudes on environmental issues since the late 1990s. This survey was designed to determine the extent to which politicians’ positions on climate change might win or lose votes. Climate change is not an issue that would generally determine a voter’s choice, but it could influence it.

  • Among Republicans, taking a green position caused a small decline in intentions to vote for the candidate, as did taking a not-green position.
  • Among Democrats, however, 74 percent said they would vote for the candidate who espoused the green position compared with 53 percent for the candidate silent on the issue and 37 percent for the one with a not-green position.
  • Independents closely resembled Democrats, with 63 percent saying they would vote for the candidate who was silent on climate change, 79 percent for the one who took the green position and 44 percent for the candidate with the not-green position.

The wording used in the survey makes no bones of casting the “green” approach to climate change as a no-brainer (at least that’s how it reads to me). That might come across as stacking the deck. But, the takeaway is that candidates should use this kind of wording—the no-brainer is a winning proposition:

In the not-green position, the science of climate change was described as a hoax on the American people, and support was given to sticking with coal and oil as the dominant energy sources with no government controls on emissions.

In the green position, there was a statement that global warming has been occurring over the past 100 years mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels, and it should be stopped with a switch from oil and coal to renewables such as wind and solar and more energy-efficient cars.

Or maybe it’s just the universally sexy, and yet at the same time commonsense, appeal of efficient cars that seals the deal?

Anyway, it remains to be seen whether the general election will bring out a “green” side of even the most climate-shy candidates on American ballots—and whether campaign promises to curb climate-warming emissions actually ever lead to policy solutions