Thursday, November 13, 2014


The New York Times tells us that Democrats think they've done something very shrewd in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election:
President Obama's landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas pollution is a bet by the president and Democrats that on the issue of climate change, American voters are far ahead of Washington's warring factions and that the environment will be a winning cause in the 2016 presidential campaign.

A variety of polls show that a majority of American voters now believe that climate change is occurring, are worried about it, and support candidates who back policies to stop it. In particular, polls show that majorities of Hispanics, young people and unmarried women -- the voters who were central to Mr. Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 -- support candidates who back climate change policy.

...The architect of Mr. Obama's climate change plan is none other than his senior counselor, John D. Podesta, who is likely to leave the White House next year to work as the chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

The climate plan that Mr. Podesta has drafted for Mr. Obama is expected to serve as a blueprint for Mrs. Clinton's climate change policy, should she run.

... [The] dynamic sets up climate change as a potentially explosive issue on the 2016 campaign trail, which may pit Mrs. Clinton against a field of Republican candidates who question and deny the science that human activity causes global warming....
Here's the problem: We're expecting the Republican nominee to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth climate-change denialist. But for all the lefty mockery of the standard GOP "I'm not a scientist" dodge, shrugs and professions of ignorance could very well work for the Republican nominee in 2016, as could parroting Sarah Palin's line about preferring an "all of the above" energy policy. The new standard for Republican candidates, as we saw with Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner in 2016, is "Did you make a red-meat statement on a controversial issue during this campaign?" If the answer is no, the Republican gets a free pass. So that's how the 2016 GOP nominee will no doubt handle th climate change issue. And yet Republican voters know that when their candidates say "all of the above," they mean "drill, baby, drill!" The base hears the dog whistle.

The Times story gives us poll numbers that make this seem like a winning strategy:
According to a 2013 poll by Stanford University, 73 percent of Americans believe that the earth has been warming over the past 100 years, while 81 percent of Americans think global warming poses a serious problem in the United States. In addition, 81 percent think the federal government should limit the amount of greenhouse gases that American businesses can emit.

Twenty-one percent of Americans think producing electricity from coal is a good idea, while 91 percent of Americans think making electricity from sunlight is a good idea.

A 2014 poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, meanwhile, found that majorities of women, minorities and young people support candidates who strongly endorse climate action. That poll found that 65 percent of Hispanics, 53 percent of blacks and 53 percent of unmarried women support candidates who back climate change action.

It found that 44 percent of people in their 20s favor candidates who support climate change action, compared with 17 percent who oppose climate action.
Yes, but when you look for signs that voters were preparing to vote on energy or environmental issues going into the 2014 election, you see numbers like this:

If you ask voters for opinions on this subject, yes, they're on the progressive side -- but it's not a burning issue for most people.

Bill Scher thinks the issue puts Republicans on the wrong side of history:
The politics of climate change today are roughly analogous to the politics of gay marriage 10 years ago.

... {Republicans] got burned on gay marriage. The ballot initiative wins masked the rapidly rising tide of gay acceptance fueled by younger generations. In fact, the youth vote for the U.S. House broke big for Democrats in 2004 during the anti-gay, right-wing frenzy, for the first time since 1996. It has stayed with Democrats ever since.

Now Republicans risk getting burned on climate.

Just as there were signs in 2004 that Republicans were on the wrong side of history, so are there today.
But a Pew poll released in March shows that Millennials are the least likely of all generations to call themselves "environmentalists":

It's been argued that young people care about the environment but just don't like the word "environmentalist":
[Stanford professor] Thomas Hayden ... recently asked his class, "who identifies as an environmentalist?" In response, only a few hands went up. One student, who'd kept her hand down, explained why.

"'OK, fair enough. I am actually an environmentalist... But I wouldn't say that just anywhere,'" Hayden recalls the student saying. "They understand if they come out saying 'I'm an environmentalist, and here's what I think everybody should do,' that that's immediately polarizing."

Hayden says that's because his students saw how previous generations of environmentalists, including Hayden and his commune buddies, came off as scolding to the general public.
What this reminds me of is the "I'm not a feminist, but..." backlash against the women's movement that arose a generation ago -- the rejection of the label "feminist" by women who actually support feminist ideas and goals. On the one hand, such people are on the progressive side; on the other, they're disinclined to identify with the movement.

That's where we are on the environment, I think, especially in the Millennial generation. So I'm afraid I don't see environmentalism motivating a lot of Democratic votes.


Phil Perspective said...

What else do you expect? Why would environmentalism be high on their list when, even if they have jobs, Millennials aren't getting great pay and they have tons of college loans to pay back?

Victor said...

I remember back in the day - 10 - 20 years ago - when environmental issues like clean air and water were supposed to draw Red States and districts to the Democrats, because hunters and fishermen cared about the environment, too.

How's that working out so far?

Philo Vaihinger said...

It's one thing to favor doing something and another to favor doing this thing.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Nothing like encouraging capital flight and outsourcing to China. Great move.

BKT said...

Philo, our trade policy has been doing that for decades, anyway. It wouldn't matter if we eliminated ALL environmental restrictions, if businesses don't suffer any disadvantage for outsourcing jobs.

Ken_L said...

Republicans have a fail-safe position to take to the 2016 election:

(1) US greenhouse gas emissions have declined and will continue to do so (true);
(2) Strong leadership is necessary to get all those OTHER countries to reduce THEIR pollution, and everyone knows Republicans are tougher on foreigners than liberals are.