by Colby Kyes
If you’re reading this, environmental issues are most likely pretty important to you. Environmental issues are important to a lot of people, yet when it comes to issues that Americans vote on, the environment consistently ranks lower than a lot of other issues including terrorism, gun control, immigration, and social security.
You might say “well the environment isn’t one of those ‘sexy’ policy issues we hear about all the time,” but if that’s true why does the environment rank below trade policy- an objectively “un-sexy” issue- on a list of issues important to voters?
According to the Environmental Voter Project (EVP), the issue has nothing to do with how interesting the environment is as a policy issue. The main cause for political apathy on the environment has more to do with the fact that environmentalists aren’t consistent voters! EVP estimates that as many as 15 million environmentalists don’t vote! This is a HUGE problem.
In short, due to the high cost nature of running a campaign, politicians have to focus their messaging on people who vote consistently. Spending precious campaign resources to get people who aren’t voters to vote for a candidate is an uphill battle that isn’t worth the effort for many politicians. Additionally, the only people who are polled on issues they care about are people who have a consistent voting history. This means non-voting environmentalists get hit twice; once because their absence at the polls means their voice isn’t heard on election day, and once when their opinion isn’t taken into consideration during exploratory polls.
So what’s EVP doing about all of this? They’re working to motivate environmentalists to get out and become consistent voters. Not just in presidential election years, but in small local elections as well. You can check out their annual reports from 2016 and 2017 that detail their strategy and results so far. They are still completing the report from the midterms last November, however in their 2017 report they estimated that they would add “between 67,000 and 108,000 brand new environmental voters” for the 2018 midterms. In a country of over 300 Million people, 67,000 new voters may not sound like all that many. But elections are often decided by a very slim margin of voters, in some cases it could come down to a few thousand votes or fewer (Bush beat Gore by about 500 votes in Florida way back in 2000). Adding a few thousand voters to an election is a huge deal, and EVP is adding many times more that.
There isn’t a silver bullet for solving environmental issues, but one thing we can all agree on is that without government action, efforts to deal with climate change are exponentially harder.
If you aren’t registered to vote and would like to do so you can find out how by visiting vote.gov.