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Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The United Nations IPCC's alarming sixth assessment report, released Monday, was splashed across newspaper front pages, at the top of most mainstream news websites, and received significant TV coverage on cable and network broadcasts.

Yes, but: The report — the panel's most comprehensive look at how humans are altering the planet's climate in sweeping ways — failed to register, let alone resonate, with swing voters, according to an unscientific sampling from two Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups conducted Tuesday evening.

Why it matters: The focus groups showed that even the most headline-grabbing climate news — and climate change is rarely the top story across so many media outlets — failed to break through the noise.

The intrigue: In a potentially troubling sign for the Biden White House, only three out of 13 voters who had supported Trump in 2016 and voted for Biden in 2020 could describe his climate policies.

  • Given that climate is a central focus of Biden's agenda, communicating to these voters will be crucial for the midterm elections and in 2024.
  • Right now, the focus groups suggested there may be an opening for Republicans to define the Democratic climate and energy positions first, or attack it as spending on the wrong priorities.

How it works: The 13 voters who participated in the groups live in the most competitive swing states of the 2020 election, including Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, among others.

Between the lines: While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about current events.

Details: When asked if they had read or seen reports of the IPCC report, only two out of 13 participants in the panels answered that they had.

  • One, Greg L., 57, of Pennsylvania, said the headline he saw on CNN was so alarming it discouraged him from reading the story.
  • "It kind of gave some hope but it sounded like we were far, we're closer to the pivot point than we thought. It's accelerating more rapidly, so I didn't get, I didn't want to read the article," he said.
  • Only one of the participants could say whether Biden supports or opposes the Green New Deal — a platform for progressive social change and climate action that Biden has never supported, though he has adopted some ideas advanced by Green New Deal advocates.

Some Republicans have been attacking Biden's infrastructure plan as being straight out of the Green New Deal.

  • Eight of the 13 participants thought human activity is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather. Yet 11 of them saw climate change as an issue affecting future generations more than themselves, and two didn't think it’s a problem at all.
  • Those who expressed some concern about ongoing extreme weather trends tended to have a past, personal experience with such an event, or knew someone who was affected by a wildfire, heat wave or hurricane.

What they're saying: “While scientists are clanging the alarm bells, begging the public to pay attention, most of these Trump-Biden voters are hearing only faint chimes, or nothing at all,” said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups.

The big picture: Polls conducted of large samples of Americans by the Pew Research Center, Ipsos and the Yale Project on Climate Communication, among others, have shown increasing concern about climate change among U.S. voters, and a spike in the percentage who see global warming as more of a current concern than a far-off problem.

  • An Ipsos poll shared exclusively with Axios in June found that seven out of 10 Americans are aware of the scientific consensus that climate change is largely caused by people, and that the world isn't on track to reach the temperature reduction targets of the Paris climate agreement.
  • Polls also show that voters are increasingly tying extreme weather events, such as severe heat waves, with human-caused global warming.
  • However, there is still a gaping partisan divide in the level of concern about the issue and support for specific solutions.

The other side: The focus groups also contained a warning sign for Republicans. None of the participants could describe anything about what the congressional Republicans are offering as a climate change plan.

  • That's for a good reason — there isn't one, though a number of Republicans in both chambers have joined on to specific legislation to boost particular technologies or emissions reduction programs.

Go deeper

RNC woos Texas Latinos

A pro-Trump protester in Austin, Texas, after Joe Biden's victory. Photo: Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican National Committee is working to court more conservative Hispanic voters in south Texas, even as the state's GOP majority uses redistricting to blunt demographic changes that should be empowering Hispanic representation and helping Democrats.

Driving the news: The RNC is opening a Hispanic community center in San Antonio on Monday. It's the third such outreach center the party has opened in south Texas this year.

New media company seeks to be the opposite of climate "doomscrolling"

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Pique Action, a new media company launching today, is betting that short form "micro-documentaries" that tell stories about people working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will help to counteract our doom-scrolling tendencies.

Why it matters: The media organization, launched by film veteran Kip Pastor (whose credits include "In Organic We Trust," and "Sickhouse," the first film shot and distributed on SnapChat) and social media strategist Tyler Steinhardt, plans to distribute positive stories about climate solutions through social media platforms like SnapChat, Youtube, TikTok and Twitter.

Oct 18, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden, Manchin and climate change

There was lots of news over the weekend about West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to a crucial piece of President Biden's proposed climate agenda. That piece would encourage wind, solar, and other zero carbon sources of clean electricity. Axios' Ben Geman has a reality check.

  • Plus, how the U.S. Secretary of Education says he's tackling crises in our public schools.
  • And, the history of American newspapers promoting lynching.

Guests: Axios' Ben Geman and Jonathan Swan; DeNeen Brown, associate professor at the University of Maryland and Washington Post reporter.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper: