The survey findings are based on responses from 302 sports men and women who were contacted by telephone in March and April. They were asked 55 questions that probe how they feel about global warming and the government's response to the observed rise in the Earth's atmospheric temperature.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said they believe that global warming is occurring. Almost as many respondents said that they've personally witnessed unusual weather conditions they think are caused by global warming, including warmer or shorter winters and less snowfall. Most believe the trend is a serious threat to wildlife, fish and humans.
The results confirmed what National Wildlife Federation officials say they've been hearing informally from many sporting groups. But spokesman Marc Smith says the poll also gave his organization some valuable and unexpected insight into how global warming is viewed across partisan lines. "I think the biggest surprise there was the percentage of people who voted for President Bush that believe global warming is occurring," he said.
(The poll results) just show that this is not a partisan issue and that this is really a tipping point.
Smith says of the 72-percent of Minnesota respondents who believe global warming is happening, 58-percent said they voted for George W. Bush in the last Presidential election.
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"And what that tells us is that it's an opportunity to move on global warming because you have a very conservative base of constituents who want action. The President's base if you will," he says. "And it just shows that this is not a partisan issue and that this is really a tipping point."
The number of Democrats and Republicans who took part in the poll is fairly even. Twenty-seven percent identified themselves as Democrat. Twenty-four percent said they're Republican. The split is closer than other statewide polls where Democrats usually post a 10-percent advantage.
Twin Cities pollster Bill Morris didn't work on the survey, but he did examine the results. He says the poll is interesting because it probably over-represents the views of Minnesota Republicans.
"As a result, some of the findings then become very, very significant when weighed against that background," he says. "One of the surprises is that sports people actually are willing to see financial incentives come into play to provide some sort of incentive for companies and people to change their behavior."
Eighty-seven percent of poll respondents said they agree that the federal government should provide incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies to help industries replace some energy from oil, gas and coal with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Even more agreed that the federal government should make energy conservation technologies more affordable for citizens.
As far as backing up their demands in the voting booth, 59-percent said a candidates' conservation policies or views would have a minor influence on their vote. But 30-percent of those polled said a candidates' conservation views would have a major influence on how they voted. Morris says that response is remarkable.
"If this were a statewide survey of all residents, seeing an issue or a set of issues coming in at 30-percent, or about a third of the electorate, that say it's a major influence would tend to indicate that we have a significant issue at hand. That could play a key role in elections, particularly in tighter races," he says.
Since this poll only reflects the views of one small segment of Minnesota voters, Morris says it's hard to predict its political reach.
But to others like Ray Norrgard, a biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. To Norrgard, the findings represent a big step forward in the debate over global warming. "I think it does give us hope. It's certainly important to us that we have a citizenry that recognizes problems and seemingly wants to be engaged in helping resolve them," he says.
In terms of current legislation on global warming, most poll respondents said they support elements of the McCain/Lieberman bill in Congress that would pay automakers to install gas-saving technologies in their plants. The bill would also give payments to farmers to conserve soil and plant trees. And it would fund new clean energy technologies including bio fuels.
Respondents also support key aspects of the Kyoto Treaty on global climate change. President Bush has refused to sign the treaty.