Poll: Voters Disapprove of U.S. Rep Lamar Smith’s Climate Science ‘Bullying’

Smith is seeking re-election in a non-competitive district and the majority of voters surveyed still support his candidacy.

Lamar Smith chairs the house science committee.
Congressman Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Science Committee, says he’s issued subpoenas hoping to uncover inappropriate collusion between state attorneys general and environmental groups. Voters aren’t wild about it, but that’s not enough to boot him from office, experts say.  NASA HQ PHOTO/flickr

A new survey by Public Policy Polling found that 45 percent of voters in Congressional District 21, which includes parts of Travis and Bexar counties, are less likely to vote for U.S. Representative Lamar Smith after learning that he has refused to investigate ExxonMobil over allegations it misrepresented its understanding of climate science.

The poll, paid for by the super PAC Climate Hawks Vote, also found that Smith’s endorsement of Trump made 41 percent of voters surveyed less likely to vote for him.

As chairman of the House Science Committee, Smith has come under fire from environmental and consumer advocacy groups for defending Exxon’s past positions on climate change and attempting to protect the company from state and federal investigations. Earlier this year, Smith issued subpoenas against a number of state attorneys general and environmental groups, alleging that they are conspiring against the company. Smith has also been a vocal skeptic of climate science.

“I would argue there’s zero knowledge of that within the district,” said Colin Strother, a Democratic political strategist in Buda.

Despite Smith’s record of attacking climate scientists, the chance that Tom Wakely, the Democrat opposing Smith, will win the race is slim to none, Strother said. Smith’s district has been represented by a Republican for the last 37 years and Smith has held the seat since 1986. In 2014, he won more than 70 percent of the votes. The district is one of 35 non-competitive congressional districts, according to political scientists.

Still, Smith’s stance on climate science hasn’t gone unnoticed within the district. Last week the San Antonio Express News’ editorial board wrote that they couldn’t “in good conscience” support Smith and declined to endorse any candidate in the race. They cited Smith’s threat to the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to file criminal charges if she didn’t release emails between agency climate scientists and his subpoenas to state attorneys general investigating Exxon as particularly problematic.

“Smith’s actions have developed more transparently this last term into an issue that goes beyond the boundaries of his district,” the editorial board wrote. “Specifically, it is his bullying on the issue of climate change that should concern all Americans.”

But Wakely, too, “fails as a fit for this district,” the editorial board wrote, because of his opposition to the Trans-Pacific partnership and support for withdrawing troops from Syria.

Voters surveyed in the Climate Hawks Vote poll didn’t seem dissuaded from voting for Smith either after being told about his ties to Trump and his defense of ExxonMobil. Only 2 percent of voters changed their mind about voting for Smith as a result.

The poll also shows “preference, not performance,” Strother said. “On a myriad of issues, the Democratic position is usually the preferred position, but voters don’t behave that way when they vote.”

As a result of Trump’s effect on the electorate, there’s “been a lot of talk about turning Texas blue,” but Smith’s opponent Wakely has raised only about $64,000 compared to Smith’s $1.4 million campaign chest, Strother said. That figure means Wakely doesn’t have the financial means to canvass voters in the district.

RL Miller, the California Democratic party’s environmental caucus chair, founded Climate Hawks Vote to get more money behind candidates who support climate change policies. The group has endorsed Wakely in the congressional race.

“Wakely understands the science and won’t abuse his position as a member of Congress the way Smith has done,” Miller said in an email. “Instead of denying the science, he’ll work with the universities in/near the district to expand education and high tech growth.”

Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering energy and the environment at the Observer. She has a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in environmental and science reporting from New York University.

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Published at 1:21 pm CST
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