Polling Experts Bash Koch-Funded Electric Car Survey as 'Highly Biased' and 'Highly Misleading'
By Dana Drugmand
Fossil fuel interests appear intent on swaying public opinion about the electric vehicle tax credit, based on recent polling on the policy. A deeper look at these efforts reveals oil and gas funding behind the groups conducting the polls and blatant bias in the polling methodology, according to experts.
Survey results commissioned and publicized by the American Energy Alliance (AEA) seem on their surface to indicate that a majority of respondents are not thrilled about subsidizing EVs purchased by other consumers, particularly wealthy Americans. However, according to polling experts who reviewed the survey for DeSmog, the questions were designed to solicit a certain response and produce results to serve a predetermined narrative that supports the oil industry's interests. According to polling expert Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, the surveys relied on "highly biased questions designed to elicit highly misleading answers."
Who Is Behind the 'Highly-Biased' Anti-Electric Vehicle Poll?
The organization that commissioned the surveys, AEA, is funded by oil interests including the Koch network and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the nation's leading trade group of oil refiners. The group is touting these findings from recent polls in Maine, Michigan and South Dakota, saying the results are consistent with those from surveys they commissioned in nine other states.
"This is further evidence that efforts to compel taxpayers, ratepayers, workers, and consumers to pay for the choices of others, and the preferences of government bureaucrats, are doomed and will lead directly to voter resistance," said Thomas Pyle, president of AEA. "The citizens of Maine, Michigan, and South Dakota see an expansion of the electric vehicle tax credit exactly for what it is: a giveaway to rich Californians and large, already prosperous corporations."
Pyle's statement, and the survey questions themselves, are loaded with misleading information. The tax credit's stated purpose is to lower the cost of electric vehicles, which is critically important for low-to-moderate income Americans. Automakers don't claim the credit, consumers do, including those who opt to lease an electric vehicle. But Pyle appears to disregard these points in an attempt to drum up opposition to the policy.
Pyle's approach makes sense within the context of his and his organization's backgrounds and former lobbying clients, as well as those of the firm conducting the surveys.
The American Energy Alliance is a 501(c)(4) organization — meaning it is not required to disclose its donors — and is the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research. IER supports "free-market energy and environmental policy" and was formed in 1989 from a predecessor organization founded by petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch. Donors to IER include oil and gas interests such as the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Charles Koch Institute as well as ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. The AFPM oil refiners trade group is also a major donor, having given three times as much to the American Energy Alliance compared to any other organization, according to the most recently available tax records.
Thomas Pyle, president of IER and AEA, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries, the largest privately owned energy company in the U.S. Pyle has also lobbied for the Big Oil trade association formerly called the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, which is now AFPM. Both Koch Industries and the members of AFPM like Exxon make billions in profits from fueling internal-combustion engine vehicles, so policies supporting vehicles not fueled by their products, like the EV tax credit, threaten their bottom lines.
MWR Strategies, the firm conducting the surveys on the EV tax credit, is a research, communications and lobbying company whose clients include electric utility and energy companies with clear fossil fuel interests. For example, TECO Energy — owner of natural gas businesses in Florida and New Mexico — paid MWR $80,000 just this year. Among other energy and utility corporations paying MWR are ENGIE, Public Service Enterprise Group/PSEG Power, and Southern Company. Notably, Koch Industries has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the firm from 2008 to 2016, OpenSecrets data reveals. Other petroleum corporations and trade associations like El Paso Corp. and AFPM's predecessor National Petrochemical & Refiners Association have previously retained MWR.
Michael McKenna, president of MWR Strategies, is an energy lobbyist who led Trump's Energy Department transition team, and, as E&E reported, is "well-known in Republican energy circles" and was recently tapped to serve in the White House as an advisor to the president. McKenna previously worked at several other research and communications firms including Luntz Research Companies, founded by notorious climate denier Frank Luntz (who only recently announced he was wrong and has shifted his views).
Mike McKenna of MWR Strategies / CleanSkiesNews / YouTube screenshot
The MWR Strategies website does not have information about current work, rather the "current" section is a list of links to polling on climate and energy topics dating back to 2008 and earlier. These "polls" are structured in much the same way as the polls about EV tax credits, with questions focused on the (debunked) premise that addressing climate change is too expensive and even asking about the "certainty" of climate science (exploiting scientific uncertainty has been a key strategy of the fossil fuel industry's well-documented disinformation campaign).
MWR's polling strategy appears to be posing misleading questions, some with inaccurate information, in order to garner a particular response. For example, in the firm's March 2008 poll on global warming, one question asked which is more important, addressing global warming or reducing reliance on foreign energy sources — which is a false choice given that renewable energy sources like solar and wind would do both. In another survey from 2006 on energy, the statement "liquefied natural gas cannot explode like gasoline" was posed to respondents. This is also misleading because while the liquid itself won't explode, blasts can occur at LNG sites and associated vapors are combustible.
How MWR's EV Tax Credit Survey Misleads Respondents and Deceives the Public
In the recent surveys MWR conducted on the EV tax credit, one of the statements that respondents could agree or disagree with was, "It is not right for GM to ask taxpayers for a tax credit." General Motors is lobbying to extend and expand the electric car tax credit, but the automaker would not actually claim the credit — consumers would.
Another question claims that "the average buyer of an electric car makes more than 150 thousand dollars per year," a claim that is demonstrably false. When pressed by DeSmog for a citation or clarification, McKenna responded through a media relations contact, pointing to the often-debunked Manhattan Institute report by Jonathan Lesser called "Short Circuit: The High Cost of Electric Vehicle Subsidies."
That report actually cites a 2013 UC-Davis study that examined "the characteristics of 1,200 households who actually purchased a new plug-in vehicle in California during 2011-2012," finding that "46 percent of electric car drivers in California alone had incomes above $150,000." This study, now six years old, does not translate to the statement regarding an "average buyer" that was presented in the survey. In effect, the survey question was premised on a falsified statistic from an outdated data set that only included California.
Excerpt of misleading questions from the MWR poll about consumer attitudes toward the electric car tax credit.
Polling and communication experts told DeSmog that these EV tax credit surveys should not be considered legitimate measures of public opinion. Many of the questions are actually statements that respondents can agree or disagree with. But according to polling expert Joshua Dyck, associate professor of political science at UMass Lowell and director of the Center for Public Opinion, "Agree/disagree items are not a legitimate way to determine public opinion on policy issues."
"There is a well known response bias for respondents in surveys to agree to prompts in questions structured as agree/disagree items," he said. "This is known to survey researchers by the term 'response acquiescence.' In order to get at how respondents actually feel, you should allow respondents to pick from balanced options. I wouldn't put much stock in the agree/disagree items in this survey."
Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, also said these surveys were designed to be misleading.
"Unbiased survey questions intended to elicit people's opinions about or support for a proposition (such as a proposed public policy) can be done in one of two ways. The proposition can be stated in neutral, factual terms with or without the leading arguments both for and against the proposition," he explained. "The questions on AEA surveys did not state the facts about the propositions, but instead made negative claims about the consequences of the propositions. Therefore, people were responding to the negative statements made about the proposition, not the proposition itself."
This response to negative statements gives the misleading appearance that there is little public support for the EV tax credit. "Elected officials who are concerned about voter opinion should probably think twice before expanding favorable tax treatment for electric vehicles. Voters in each of the 12 States we examined are very skeptical of them," MWR's McKenna said in a statement about the poll.
But as Maibach explained, this is probably not true. "The poll done for AEA was not intended to determine how people actually feel about public policies in support of EVs, rather it was done to give the impression that people do not support use of public resources to support EVs," he said.
Maibach's Center for Climate Change Communication, along with Climate Nexus and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, did a poll in July of 820 registered voters in Michigan on their attitudes towards various climate policies. According to the results, "Michigan voters favor expanding the tax credit for those who purchase EVs — close to two-thirds (66 percent) agree the federal tax credit for EVs should extend beyond each manufacturer's first 200,000 vehicles."
Pyle, AEA's president and former Koch lobbyist, told E&E News he stands by his surveys finding little support for the tax credit, adding that he is "not concerned about what the greens think about our work."
But Maibach pushed back against this statement. "The problem with his poll is not that 'the greens' don't like the findings," he said. "The problem is that his findings are bogus, because they asked highly biased questions designed to elicit highly misleading answers."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
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How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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