Saturday, October 25, 2014

Environment, Climate Unlikely to Tip Scales on Election Day

U.S. Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force urge action on climate change in Washington  (Credit: Click to enlarge.
National polling numbers haven't deterred environmental groups from plowing cash into races and buying ads across the country to boost green candidates and pummel their foes.

Take billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who's betting big that environmental issues can sway voters in pivotal elections around the country.  The Steyer-backed outside spending group NextGen Climate Action has raised about $50 million so far this election cycle, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing, with $41.6 million of that coming from Steyer himself.

So far this cycle, the group has spent more than $16 million on independent expenditures including robo calls, television ads and mailings aimed at targeting GOP congressional candidates and boosting Democrats, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.  NextGen is targeting GOP Senate candidates in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire and gubernatorial contests in Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania.

That's not the only group targeting candidates' environmental records this cycle.  The League of Conservation Voters and its affiliated groups have spent more than $12 million to support Democratic candidates for Congress while attacking conservative candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' data.

Daniel Weiss, LCV's senior vice president for campaigns, said that when it comes to environmental issues, nationwide polling loses its relevance.  "There is no national because each race is different," he said.

"In the most competitive races, the ones that we're focused on, where these issues become important are when people learn about the candidates' position on them," Weiss said.

Based on polling data he's seen in the past, Weiss added, "People assume that their candidates or their elected officials support environmental protection because it's a norm. ...  So people put that lower on their list because they assume -- falsely, of course -- that candidates are all good on this issue.  Who would be against clean air and clean water?  But when a spotlight is shined on somebody's record on these issues, then it becomes very important to them."

Weiss pointed to a recent report from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad buys, showing that environment and energy have been hot topics on the airwaves this campaign season.  Energy and environment had been the subject of about 110,000 ad buys as of late September, a number surpassed only by jobs and unemployment ads.  Oil was the subject of another 36,000 spots, the study showed.

Those ads could be largely preaching to the choir.  The Pew survey in September found that environmental issues were important to 69 percent of Democratic voters, compared to 36 percent of those voting for Republicans.

"If climate change is your issue, you're going to be voting for the Democratic candidate," said Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report.

Read More at Environment, Climate Unlikely to Tip Scales on Election Day

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