The Mark UP

Voting Against Children is Bad for Lawmakers’ Political Health

Turns out dirty air isn’t just bad for kids’ health – its bad for members of Congress who vote for it.

New polling conducted by Hart Research finds:

In a policy climate that is heavily focused on jobs and economic issues . . .  pollution and clean air standards—especially when framed around public health impacts—are an important and electorally relevant issue for voters in this critical target audience.

The findings are based on an intensive polling program commissioned by the NRDC Action Fund and focusing on three members of Congress, two of whom voted to block clean air standards and one of whom voted to strengthen them.

Following their votes to block the cleanup of toxic pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers (HR 2250), the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and the League of Conservation Voters ran an ad criticizing Representative Tim Walberg (MI-07) and Environment Ohio ran an ad criticizing Representative Steve Stivers (OH-15).

Environment Ohio also praised Representative Betty Sutton (OH-13) in a TV ad, for her vote to clean up the toxic pollution from these sources.

NRDC Action Fund commissioned Hart Research to poll moderate ticket-splitting voters in each of their districts before and after the ads ran, to find out what effect knowledge of their member’s votes on air pollution would have on how they see them.

In other words, how members of Congress vote on air pollution and health motivates most swing voters; voting against clean air can politically hurt politicians, while voting for it can help them.

A quick recap of the findings:

In Tim Walberg’s district (MI-07):

  • Swing voter support for Tim Walberg dropped by 9 points between the pre-ad and post-ad polls; while the percent of undecided voters increased by 14 points during the same period, landing at 48% undecided after the ad.
  • Most swing voters – 57% say that knowing their Representative had voted to weaken clean air standards would cause them to feel less favorable toward the Rep – and 33% say this would make them feel much less favorable.
  • Walberg’s favorability among swing voters took a hit as well, his unfavorability going up 6 points from before to after the ad. Of those voters who definitely recalled the ad, 42% viewed Walberg negatively.

In Steve Stivers’ district (OH-15):

  • Swing voter support for Steve Stivers dropped by a stunning 15 points between the pre-ad and post-ad polls, cutting his advantage over an unnamed opponent from a twenty point lead to a five point lead. At the same time, the percent of undecided voters increased by 15 points during the same period, landing at 53% undecided after the ad.
  • Most swing voters – 53% say that knowing their Representative had voted to weaken clean air standards would cause them to feel less favorable toward the Rep – and 27% say this would make them feel much less favorable.
  • Swing voters’ negative feelings toward Stivers went up by 6 points between pre- and post-ad polls. Of those voters who definitely recalled the ad, 28% viewed Stivers negatively.

In Betty Sutton’s district (OH-13), ads praising the member for standing up for clean air clearly had a positive impact:

  • Betty Sutton’s net advantage over an unnamed opponent increased by 5 points.
  • 53% of swing  voters say that knowing their Representative had voted to protect clean air standards would cause them to feel more favorable toward the Rep.
  • Positive feelings about Betty Sutton went up as well, going from 28% positive pre-ad to 34% positive post-ad.

The campaign wonks out there will want to dig in to the memo, so I’ll let it get the rest across. But the bottom line message is pretty clear: a vote against clean air can cost members swing votes back home.

This post was updated 11/15/11.