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Frank Luntz On How To Pass A Climate Bill

For a long time, GOP pollster Frank Luntz was mainly known as the guy who wrote a 2002 memo advising the Bush administration to "make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate [about global warming]." So it was a little surprising to see him this morning at the National Press Club, teaming up with the Environmental Defense Fund on a new set of poll findings about climate legislation. Even Luntz couldn't help joking about it: "When [EDF president] Fred asked me to do this with him, I asked, 'Do you know who I am?' " 

In any case, Luntz's findings themselves are notable—mainly because they show that, despite all the gloom among Democrats, there appears to be broad bipartisan support for climate legislation. At least as long as it's not couched in terms of climate change. After a series of studies conducted last November and December, Luntz concluded that most people do believe climate change is real, but aren't necessarily going to support sweeping legislation on that premise alone. "You're fighting the wrong battle," he told the assembled group of advocates. People want to hear about "energy dependence on the Middle East" and "creating jobs that can't be shipped overseas" rather than "melting glaciers or polar bears." Some other findings: 

--“Cleaner, safer, healthier” is a more effective phrase than “sustainability.” Sustainability is about maintaining the present, while politicians have to be for something new and better in order to win support. 

--Even more specific, enviros tend to focus on “clean” while Americans want to focus on “health.” 

--Stop saying “green jobs.” Say “American jobs.” 

--“Carbon neutral” conjures up “Hollywood types flying across the country and buying carbon offsets.” “Accountability for polluters,” on the other hand, conjures up good governance. 

Luntz insists that Americans would support a cap on carbon emissions—80 percent of Dems, but also 43 percent of Republicans he surveyed are either definitely or pretty sure climate change is a problem that's caused in part by humans. But he doesn't believe cap-and-trade can pass as long as "it’s called ‘cap-and-trade,’ and all the messaging that’s been used against it. The title has become so demonized that they’ve got to come up with a new name.” Okay, but is that really all that's standing in the way? John Kerry already refuses to use the phrase "cap-and-trade" (he prefers the term "pollution-reduction bill"), and his climate bill's still facing an uncertain fate. Clearly there's more than shoddy messaging at play.

(flickr photo credit: oc evee)