Texas Gov. Rick Perry makes a point during the GOP presidential debate at… (Lawrence K. Ho / For the Times )
When Rick Perry dug in his boot heels at Wednesday night's debate and insisted -- in defiance of mainstream scientific belief -- that global warming was an unproven theory, longtime watchers of the Texas governor said that was simply Perry being Perry.
Give no quarter. Assay no doubt. Never back down.
But a new survey suggests that, despite what the fellows with their lab coats and climate data might say, the move was not bad politics.
When it comes to global warming, the poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication finds a stark difference in opinion among Democrats, independents and even most Republicans as opposed to the "tea party" faithful -- the most conservative of conservative voters, whom Perry is courting in his bid for the GOP nomination.
Nearly 8 in 10 Democrats believe that global warming is happening, as do just over 7 in 10 independents. Just over half of Republicans share that view. But only 34% of tea party acolytes accept the notion and more than half, 53%, reject the notion our atmosphere is getting hotter.
In a follow-up question, participants were asked if, in fact, global warming was happening, what was the cause. Fifty percent of tea partyers attributed it to natural causes, rather than man's activities; 21% wouldn't even entertain the question, again insisting it wasn't happening.
That number compared to 43% of Republicans and 35% of independents who blamed nature. More than 6 in 10 Democrats cited human activities.
Among other findings:
- A substantial majority of Democrats, 72%, worry about global warming, compared with 53% of independents, 38% percent of Republicans and 24% of tea party activists.
- Tea party acolytes are more likely to be "born-again" or evangelicals (46%) than Republicans (31%), Democrats (21%) or independents (20%)
- Democrats are more likely to believe that humans are evolved from earlier species of animals (62%) than independens (57%), Republicans (51%) and tea party followers (34%)
With his poke-in-the-eye stance on global warming and provocative statements on Social Security, Perry is clearly focused on winning the party's nomination by leaning far right, leaving the wooing of those independents, moderate Republicans and cross-over Democrats for later. (Presuming he makes it to the general election.)
Will the strategy work? Mark McKinnon, a Texan and veteran GOP strategist, sized it up well post-debate: "Mitt Romney said everything establishment Republicans wanted to hear. Rick Perry said everything anti-establishment Republicans wanted to hear. The question is where are there more Republicans in the primary today?"