Remember how we were told people everywhere are “waking up to the threat of climate change”? Welcome to 2014. In Charles Krauthammers words “The National Weather Service has upgraded the election from tropical storm to tsunami, especially the results of the governorships. If you look at the bluest states in the country, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, all gone Republican.”
Australians may have missed what happened this week in the US (especially if they only watch the ABC). Climate Change is over as a voting issue. Will Australian Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, get the message? Just last month he pledged to put carbon trading on the next election agenda (again). The conservatives across the nation must be cheering.
In the US, Tom Steyer threw $74 million into a campaign to convince voters to be very afraid and vote out the Republicans. Nearly all of Steyers favourite candidates failed. It was no accidental issue. The NextGen Climate Action Super Pac took Steyers money, and spent it all (and more) to push President Obama’s green agenda, specifically targeting coal “for extinction”. The Republicans supported energy of all kinds from coal to oil, fracked gas, and more pipelines.
This was the “biggest investment the environmental community has ever made in politics”, and yet it failed dismally:
[Washington Post] The spending plans are laid out in a document, acquired by The Post, that summarizes the activities of five top green groups — the Environmental Defense Action Fund, Steyer’s NextGen Climate, the NRDC Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), and the Sierra Club – and has been circulated internally among them. Asked about the document, which is dated October 17, LCV president Gene Karpinski commented, “this is by far the biggest investment that the environmental community has ever made in politics.” Karpinski said that LCV will spend over $25 million this year, compared with $5 million in the 2010 election cycle and $15 million in 2012.
Little Green Machine (Wall St Journal, paywalled)
In Kentucky Mitch McConnell made opposition to the “war on coal” the centerpiece of his campaign. He won what was expected to be a close election by 15 points. Coal-supporting Shelley Moore Capito became the first GOP Senator in 55 years from West Virginia, where voters also ended the 38-year career of Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who couldn’t separate himself from Mr. Obama’s energy policies.
Nearly every one of Mr. Steyer’s favored candidates—in Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin and Maine—lost. New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen won, but Scott Brown had her playing defense for supporting a cap-and-trade carbon tax. A recent Gallup poll found that climate change ranked last among 16 issues that voters cared about in the midterms.
It was about “the climate” according to the Washington Free Beacon:
Environmentalists, and Steyer in particular, stated their intention early in the 2014 election cycle to make climate change a “wedge issue” that could win tight contests for Democrats in purple states.
“It is very difficult to find an issue that voters place lower on the list than climate change,” according to Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
NextGen Climate Action, one of the election cycle’s most active and well-funded Super PACs, spent more than $5.5 million in the race, nearly 15 percent of all outside spending on Udall’s behalf.
The group had 68 staffers working in the state.
Imagine having 68 staffers in one state for an environmental campaign and still losing?
Has “the climate” reached the tipping point where it turns off more voters than it gains?
In exit polls 27% of Republicans think it’s a serious issue (and might be tempted to vote Democrat), but only 15% of Democrat voters are skeptical. Graph from New York Times. Have the Democrats “wedged” themselves?
Most voters rank the issue last so they aren’t going to change their vote. The Republicans who think climate change is a problem are not shifting to vote Democrat. But the Democrats who are skeptical may have already moved the other way. (I’d like to see some historic comparisons, have these proportions changed?).
For the record Steyer was involved in some way in 7 gubernatorial races losing four and winning three. In the three winning seats the Democrat candidates were already ahead in the polls before Steyers campaign began.
What does it mean for US climate policies?
Brad Plumer, on Vox, says: The biggest loser in this election is the climate” . Obama is going around the congress with EPA regulations anyway. But there are now more conservative governors who may refuse to implement the EPA plans.
In the short term, the election’s impact might seem negligible. After all, the action in Washington over the next few years will center on the Environmental Protection Agency, which is crafting rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from US power plants. These rules don’t need congressional approval (they’re being done under the existing Clean Air Act), and President Obama is expected to veto any attempts by Congress to block them. (Conservative governors refusing to implement the EPA’s plan may be the bigger pitfall here.)
But congressional indifference is a huge problem for future climate policy.
h/t Des Moore