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Are “VSP” political advisors waking up to #climate as political issue?

March 29th, 2016 · No Comments

For a decade, at least, many closing tracking climate issues in the United States have advocated that — regretfully in many ways — climate was/is a serious wedge issue that does not distinguish the two major parties but which could have impact in swaying voters toward those candidates aligned with scientists and scientific understanding. 

This advocacy has been at odds with the traditional “Very Serious People” political advisors who reap in the dough via media advertising bundling, polling, and ever-so sage advice to political campaigns. Thus, candidate after candidate, election after election, the professional pols have advised candidates to ‘keep their mouth shut’ on climate.

In 2008, then candidate and now Senator Jeff (Energy Smart) Merkley (D-OR) explained to me that he spoke every single day about climate and clean energy in his Senate race even though his political advisors recommended otherwise.

I view energy as perhaps the most critical issue … national security … economic security … Global Warming. We, the United States, must show leadership.  … We must turn to rebuilding a new energy economy and save the planet from its mounting fever.

His point: if he (we) think it so critical an issue, we should speak to citizens (voters) about it: to mobilize the concerned and create concern in the unconcerned.  And, the corollary that it would be fundamentally dishonest to not discuss an issue, a critical issue, and then seek to act on it when elected.

As to that mounting fever, Merkley called out Oregon’s university students.

When I visited universities and colleges, I would have an informal poll about what issues mattered to them.  Every single time, Global Warming was the number one issue.  They get it. We need to help others get it.

Merkley saw (sees) climate and clean energy as not just a critical issue to address but also, at the core, a winning political issue: that doing the right thing is also the right thing politically.

That perspective, however, has been too rarely shared. And, what Merkley commented on as to his political advisors seems to have been the norm.

The question is: is that norm falling apart or, even stronger, has it shattered?  Have the chattering classes of professional political advisors woken up to climate not just an important issue but as a winning one?

A recent Democracy Corps “Friends” memo focusing on Donald Trump vulnerabilities among Republican voters sparked this thinking/question.  From Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, the executive summary has this paragraph:

Moderates form 31 percent of the Republican Party base, and they are solidly pro-choice on abortion and hostile to pro-life groups. About one in five are poised to defect from the party. The party is divided down the middle on gay marriage, climate change, and the N.R.A.

Climate change, in the highlighting to Democratic Party elite concerned about how to deal with a Donald Trump nomination (and down-ballot GOP candidates), is right up there with “gay marriage” and “the N.R.A.”

This 11 page memo is filled with polling material and potential messaging paths to swing these potential swing GOP voters.

The key point is emphasizing fissures splitting the party in two:

Emerging issues like gun control, climate change and the role of government are already dividing the party down the middle between the Tea Party and Evangelical bloc on one hand and the Observant Catholics and Moderates on the other. Each bloc encompasses almost half of GOP base. [p 7]

A few paragraphs later,

Something important may be happening on climate change. A majority of the Observant Catholics and two-thirds of moderates say reporting that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consensus of scientists on climate change is true, not the fiction of the liberal media.

Thus, a majority of one half of the GOP — about 30 percent of the party — are totally at odds with the GOP elite (and certainly both leading GOP Presidential candidates) on climate change. And … AND … this “something important” merits discussion and highlighting by D VSP political consultants like James Carville.

In terms of taking on @TheRealDonald,

The strongest attacks on Trump charge that he is an ego-maniac who cares more about himself than the country, that he is very disrespectful towards women, and that he is a threat to national security and should not have control of our nuclear weapons.

After that risky ego-maniac issue, turning to direct policy substance

We can see the potential to shift the vote with attacks concerning his support for a coal agenda over a clean energy future, his ability to deal with national security issues, and his disrespect towards women. In a regression analysis controlling for demographics and other factors, these charges against Trump had a significant impact on the likelihood of supporting Clinton over Trump in the re-vote.

Note that in the presented analysis, the “Big Oil/Dirty Energy vs Clean Energy Future” had the strongest resonance in getting GOP voters to say that they would vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the tide has shifted and the professional political elite have come to the realization that climate change matters — even to a political campaign.  If this memo is indicative, we should expect political advisors to recommend significant clean energy discussion(s) by their candidates.


NOTE: For a different perspective on this memo, see this EDF post.

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Tags: politics