MEMO: The Politics of Climate Have Changed

TO:             Interested Parties
FROM:     John Podesta, Lori Lodes, Climate Power 2020
RE:            The Politics of Climate Have Changed

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the climate voter.

Poll after poll shows voters are ready for leaders to take on the climate crisis and to invest in a clean energy future, and Sen. Ed Markey’s win in Massachusetts yesterday sent a resounding message: The politics of climate have changed and embracing bold climate action is a winning message in tough races.

Markey, the initial underdog in the Senate primary, ended the night with more than a 10 point lead largely in part because of his leadership and commitment to the Green New Deal. Spurred on by climate activists and organizers, Markey was able to make the race a referendum on climate change and climate action.

Democrats should pay attention to this trend for 2020 and beyond. The base is highly motivated to vote, phonebank, canvass, and donate to elect leaders that support bold, transformative climate action. The future of the Democratic party, from deep blue to purple seats, depends on green voters.

This holds true for both primary and general elections. Younger voters, voters of color, and suburban women want to see investments and action on clean energy, job creation, and environmental justice. This is good news for Democrats. Bold climate action positions help them peel off independent voters from Republicans and energize voters who identify as liberal but may not see themselves as Democrats.

It’s why Joe Biden is campaigning on bold climate action and centering his economic recovery around the need for a clean energy future.  Instead of running away from climate, Biden-Harris is taking on the fight to address climate change and actively campaigning on it.

As with COVID-19, the Trump campaign won’t listen to experts and is ignoring the realities families are living with every day because Trump put fossil fuel lobbyists in charge of his government. As the death rate rises because of the pandemic, extreme storms devastate communities, communities being torn apart from a legacy of racial injustice, and our economy officially in a recession, Trump’s failure to address any of these crises throws into sharp contrast for voters what a science-driven versus science-denial government would look like.

Instead, Trump and his team continue to lie about climate action, clean energy jobs, and the Green New Deal. And that is an electoral problem for him.

Voters think climate change is a serious crisis the president must address and they do not trust him on climate and the environment.

A recent poll in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state for both Biden and Trump, found that the former vice president holds an 8 point lead in Pennsylvania. Notably, that advantage increases to a 15-point lead when the debate is centered around fracking, clean energy, and climate change — dispelling the conventional belief that a focus on fracking will pull down support for Democrats and Biden in the state. The trend held true throughout the state, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. 

An April Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey found voters are 55 percent less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who opposes taking action on climate and moderate Republicans are 35 percentage points less likely to vote for a candidate opposing action. A March 2020 poll from Climate Power 2020 found that critiquing Trump’s record on climate increases Trump’s disapproval among GOP-leaning persuadable voters, and increases motivation to vote by younger voters by 12 percentage points and Hispanic voters by 9 percentage points. 

Put simply: Climate is a top issue among the voters who will determine this election — Republican-leaning suburban women, youth voters, and voters of color. For President Trump to secure a second term, he needs to dampen support for Biden among younger Americans and voters of color, while Biden needs to appeal to independent voters — chiefly women — who swung from Obama to Trump in 2016 to win.