Most voters didn’t go the ballot box to demand dirtier air and contaminated water. And yet Republican leaders have proudly proclaimed that gutting environmental safeguards is one of their top priorities for the new Congress. They have vowed to roll back national limits on climate change pollution, strip protections from waterways that feed drinking supplies, and launch a host of other attacks.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his top priority for the next session is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”
That’s a bold statement to make when the vast majority of Americans value the EPA’s role in protecting their families from pollution. Seven out of 10 Americans, for instance, support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey.
The GOP pro-polluter agenda is out of step with what Americans want. Republicans may have gained control of the Senate, but they did not receive a mandate to dismantle environmental safeguards.
Given the dismal voter turnout in the midterms, it’s hard to declare a mandate for anything.
- 36.2 percent of eligible voters participated in the midterm elections, the lowest turnout since World War II. Even if every single one of them favored the GOP, the party still wouldn’t have the majority of Americans behind them.
- Several races were settled by small margins. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Republican Thom Tillis won the North Carolina Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percent—about 48,000 votes.
- Republicans lost among people under 40 years old and among all minority voters, according to the National Journal.
- The voting center grew this year: 40 percent of voters identified as moderates, while 36 percent called themselves conservative, down from 42 percent in the 2010 midterms. Fewer voters are calling for the radical changes espoused by the Tea Party.
- Since the last midterm election, 21 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, which means fewer people are able to vote and fewer voices are being heard.
- 69 percent of all dark money—campaign funding from undisclosed donors—went to Republican candidates. The vast majority of it came from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/GPS—polluter friendly groups known for attacking environmental safeguards. That money means Mitch McConnell may be able to claim the Koch Brothers’ mandate, but certainly not a mandate from the voters.
These numbers paint a picture of a discouraged electorate. Many are tired of the gridlock in Washington; many are overwhelmed by the money in politics. But nowhere in the polling does it say Americans want to breathe dirtier air or get hit by more extreme weather brought on by climate change.
Indeed, exit polling showed that six out of 10 voters leaving the voting booth support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants.
Republicans won several hard fought races this year, but they would be wise not to let it go to their heads. When candidates won roughly 52 percent of about 36.2 percent of eligible voters, making a declaration of war against the environment sounds like the beginnings of overreach.
Compare those small portions to the 98 percent of scientists who say climate change is a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Now that’s what I call a mandate for action.