Election: It's About The Economy, Stupid (Not Climate Change)

Americans want jobs AND clean energy, clean air, clean water, green economy

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There’s been so much talk about the dirty words of "cap ‘n trade" the last few weeks that one could really start to believe the spin. That is, the argument put forward by a few candidates and pundits, and some misguided reporters even (see this incorrect Politico report, which was refuted by this sensible TIME report), is that votes for the climate bill cost some House members their seats.

First of all, Americans cast their votes on the economy, jobs and government spending. Climate change, while a spicy talking point for some, was not on most voters’ priority lists, according to a milieu of exit polls and surveys.

One survey found that when voters who chose the Republican candidate were asked in an open-ended question to name their biggest concern about the Democrat, only 1 percent cited something related to energy or cap and trade.

Bottom line: People who wanted change in ’08 were upset that that change didn’t come fast enough, or that the economy is still in rough shape.

Second, let’s take a look at some numbers (hat tip to friends at NRDC who pulled these together quickly), which clearly show that not only was climate not the losing issue of the midterm elections, it was in some cases a winner:

  • Of Democrats who voted for the House climate bill (ACES) who were up for re-election, 162 out of 195 have won or are winning. That’s 83.1 percent success rate for YESes on the climate bill.
  • Of Democrats who voted against ACES who are up for re-election, 21 out of 36 have lost or are losing. That is to say that nearly 60 percent of those who voted NO on the climate bill have been fired by the public.

And still, some more compelling stats:

  • California weighed in big-time in favor of clean energy and climate change initiatives by defeating Prop 23 and electing Jerry Brown for governor and re-electing Barbara Boxer.
  • Gov. Patrick was re-elected in Massachusetts and he sees the clean energy message as one of the key factors in the campaign.
  • Green-economy proponent Peter Shumlin was elected Governor of Vermont.
  • Lincoln Chafee, who had a strong record of Senate votes on clean energy initiatives, was elected governor of Rhode Island.
  • Dan Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut. His position on climate change action is strong and public.
  • And climate action proponent John Lynch was re-elected governor of New Hampshire.

Finally, it’s also important to revisit the attitudes of the American public in terms of action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.

An August poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that:

  • A majority of U.S. voters say the government should regulate greenhouse gases linked to global warming and that the Environmental Protection Agency is up to the job.
  • When asked whether "the government should regulate greenhouse gases from sources like power plants and refineries in an effort to reduce global warming," 60 percent support it.
  • 54 percent [of voters] say they are confident in the EPA when it comes to regulation greenhouse gases.
  • When asked about a bill "would suspend the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases for two years," 53 percent oppose it.

A poll last week by the Civil Society Institute found that:

  • More than half of Americans (68 percent) see the U.S. as weak or very weak on "practical, problem-solving solutions" and leadership in relation to "energy independence and dealing with climate change or global warming." This view is fairly consistent among Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Tea Party supporters.
  • The same poll found that 72 percent of all respondents, including 58 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Independents, agree with the following statement: "Smarter energy choices are the key to creating new jobs and a future that is healthy and safe because fossil fuels mean toxic wastes that are a threat to our health and safety."

If there’s one thing that’s clear after the last two days, it’s that Americans care about the economy and jobs, but they don’t want to sacrifice their health or clean air for it.


Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.