Memo: Trump, Climate Change, and Electoral Weakness

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: John Podesta and Lori Lodes, Climate Power 2020

DATE: June 29, 2020

RE: Trump, Climate Change, and Electoral Weakness

Four months ahead of the November elections, Donald Trump continues to lose ground in the polls because of his failure to heed the advice of experts and his reflexive anti-science reactions that make every crisis worse. Trump has chosen to lead by chaos. Due to this incompetence and corruption, COVID-19 has cost 125,000 Americans their lives, 40 million have lost their jobs and more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed. In the last year alone, Michigan has already experienced devastating flooding, forcing thousands to evacuate, Arizona is experiencing the fifth-largest wildfire in the state’s history, and hurricane season is projected to be one of our most extreme, all due to the climate crisis, which he’s exacerbated.

Trump has backed himself into a corner. His response to crises is to attack, distract, lie, scare, and bully — and his favorite target is climate. Trump has lashed out at climate and the Green New Deal 23 times this year, even with a pandemic raging across our nation. This isn’t a surprise. In 2019, Trump directed Republicans to not attack the Green New Deal until the end of the election. But with the end in sight, Trump has started his attack.

This week, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will release its report detailing common-sense measures to move the U.S. toward zero emissions and act boldly on the climate crisis. Trump and his web of political allies are already pouncing on the report to distract and lie about climate action.

Trump’s problem: Voters think climate change is a serious crisis the president must address and they do not trust Trump on climate and the environment.

His insistence on riffing in his rallies on hamburgers, windmills, AOC, and the Green New Deal is not only a losing message for him, but it gives Democrats and climate activists a strong opening to energize young voters, Black voters, and Latinx voters. Plus, his attacks cost him persuadable, Republican-leaning women who want candidates who support strong climate action.

Trump will not win a fight on climate change, he will not win a fight on the Green New Deal.

1. Trump is not trusted on climate change, clean energy, and the environment.

  • A Climate Power 2020 March survey found that 62 percent of Republican-leaning persuadable voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of climate and 72 percent think that strong climate action will be good for the economy.
  • A Morning Consult poll found that only 29 percent of voters trust Trump over Biden to handle the environment — a 19-point difference. Trump also trails Biden for voter trust in handling energy issues, by a 7-point margin.
  • A poll from June by Research Co found Trump is 20 percentage points behind Vice President Joe Biden on the environmentthe biggest gap on any of the issues surveyed.

2. General election voters think climate is a serious issue and want action to build a clean energy future.

  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change, and almost as many say the problem is already affecting their community in some way, in a June Pew Research Center survey.
  • According to a June 2020 Yale, Climate Nexus, and George Mason poll, more than 70% of voters support legislation to achieve a 100% clean economy by eliminating fossil fuels.
  • An April Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey also found that voters are 55 percent less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who opposes taking action on climate – liberal/moderate Republicans are 35 percentage points less likely to vote for a candidate opposing action. 
  • While Republicans led the generic ballot with GOP-leaning persuadable voters by 9 points in March, when reframed as a choice between a Democrat who “supports taking strong government action to combat climate change” and a Republican who opposes such action, the generic ballot shifts to a 20-point Democratic lead – a net 29-point shift.
  • 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.

3. Trump’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, denial of science, and rejection of experts are concerns for voters.

  • According to a June 2020 Yale, Climate Nexus, and George Mason poll, a majority of voters (52%) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports bailing out the fossil fuel industry.
  • A poll from the Center for American Progress Action Fund and League Conservation Voters found that three in five general election voters are highly concerned about Trump’s record, including how he has done the bidding of oil and gas donors, sided with polluters, rolled back 98 rules protecting the environment, and denies climate science.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of Americans support providing financial assistance to renewable energy companies, like wind and solar, according to recent pollingfewer than half of Americans support bailing out oil, gas, and coal companies.
  • 66 percent of persuadable voters believe Trump ignores the advice of trusted figures like military leaders and public health officials, further reinforcing their negative views of Trump.