Climate Change Not a Top Issue for Voters, Despite Push From Democrats

Al Gore / Getty Images
September 14, 2018

Many Democrats have pushed to make climate change a key issue for voters in recent years, but it has "failed to gain traction as a voting issue in American elections," according to a Politico report.

As a result, "Even Democrats this year rarely advertised on climate, running campaigns dominated instead by more immediate concerns about health care, immigration and jobs," according to Politico.

President Donald Trump has undone many Obama-era climate policies, including his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, and meanwhile, voters do not appear to consider climate change a major issue heading into the 2018 midterms.

"It’s too remote. It’s not today. It’s not conflict," California Gov. Jerry Brown (D.), said in an interview. "So that’s where we are, and climate change is not jobs, not taxes, it’s not violent crime. It’s not sex. And it’s not immigration."

A survey from earlier this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason University found liberal democrats ranked global warming fourth among issues that would influence their vote. They rank health care, gun policies, and environmental protection ahead of climate change as voting issues.

"This is the base — this is what they’re all trying to gin up and appeal to, both at the primary level and as a way to get out the vote come November," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Only 2 percent of American voters overall consider global warming the most important electoral issue, according to the Yale and George Mason study.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s political organization initially focused on climate change before expanding to invest in campaigns for voter registration and impeaching Trump. In 2016, his organization NextGen Climate Action spent over $90 million on federal races. "In order to win on [climate change]," he said, "we have to win a bunch of elections."

Gray Davis, a former Democratic California governor, said he is not sure if reducing carbon emissions helps campaigns. "It’s not clear to me whether it’s an election winning argument. It might be an election winning argument in some counties in California, and maybe in some of the other … states that tend to follow what we do. But it’s a little under the radar."

Former vice president and presidential candidate Al Gore thinks the tangible impact of the weather will drive people to vote based on climate change. "I think that there is a new participant in the discussion, and that’s mother nature," he said.

Gore has remained a prominent environmental activist. His campaign to shed light on global warming was documented in the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.

"And the increasing frequency and severity of these climate-related disasters almost every night on the news now is really driving further change that I think does give the issue great political significance," Gore said.

Last summer, Gore compared fighting global warming to abolition and the civil rights movement. "The climate movement, not least in cities, is right now in the tradition of all the great moral causes that have improved the circumstances of humanity throughout our history," he said. "The abolition of slavery. Women’s suffrage and women’s rights. The civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa."