Republicans aren't scientists on climate change, and they want voters to remember that. Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush insisted, “I’m not a scientist” in separate 2009 interviews. Last year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s “not a scientist." House Speaker John Boehner used a variation of the line too, saying, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama summed up what many Americans think when they hear this excuse. “[Y]ou know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
Most voters aren’t scientists either. But they tend to agree with Obama and spot that the canned GOP response is insufficient, according to a January poll from the New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future.
The poll also suggested why Republicans continue to use the line: It can help them in primaries where conservatives dominate the polls. Forty-nine percent of Tea Party voters said they would be more likely to vote for a “not-a-scientist” candidate. But in the general election, this answer won't work. Only 27 percent of Americans were more likely to vote for one of the not-a-scientists, compared to 44 percent who were less likely.
The same poll found roughly half of Republican voters support a candidate who promises to fight climate change. 2016 candidates clearly need something new to say.