If you watch TV these days, you might think oil, gas, and coal companies are running for elected office. Fossil fuel giants have poured $153 million into campaign ads as of mid- September, and we still have weeks to go before the election.
Yet even after this ad blitz by deep-pocketed fossil fuel companies intent on preserving their profits and their political influence in Washington, voters still prefer candidates who support clean energy and clean air, according to a new poll conducted for the NRDC Action Fund by Public Policy Polling. It turns out that no matter how much money polluters spend, Americans pay more attention to their health and their children’s future than to fossil fuel industry sound bites.
The survey found that 59 percent of likely voters in key battleground states were more likely to vote for the presidential candidate who supports reducing toxic mercury pollution from power plants, while only 28 percent would vote for the candidate who opposes mercury standards. Similarly, 57 percent would vote for the presidential candidate who wants to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, while 32 percent would choose the candidate who thinks carbon limits would be bad for business.
Highly coveted undecided voters also prefer clean energy champions. On every major energy issue that the two presidential candidates differ on—reducing toxic air pollution, cutting carbon emissions, expanding renewable energy, setting standards for fracking operations—undecided voters clearly prefer the candidate who is moving America into a safer, more sustainable future.
Sixty percent of undecided voters, for instance, favor the presidential candidate who supports fuel efficiency standards that will nearly double the distance the average car can travel on a gallon of gas, while only 31 percent would vote for the candidate who wants to block these standards.
The same pattern holds true for congressional races as well. Fifty-three percent of undecided voters said they would support a congressional candidate who wants to extend tax incentives for wind power, while 31 percent would choose the candidate who would kill those incentives.
These survey results are significant, because energy matters more in this election than any I can remember. Energy gets more mentions in campaign ads than any topic other than jobs and the economy, according to analysis done by the New York Times.
Voters want to know where candidates stand on energy. A record of standing up for clean air and promoting renewable power will help candidates with undecided voters – if those candidates make sure those voters know about it. And candidates with records of fighting against public health and environmental safeguards or fighting for oil and gas subsidies may pay a price at the voting booth. But, only if voters know about it.
More often than not, that price will be levied on Republicans. It seems they are catching blowback from their attempt to turn environmental protection into a wedge issue. For decades, cleaning up America’s air and water was a bipartisan effort. It was President Nixon, after all, who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Air Act. President Ford signed the Safe Drinking Water Act, and President Reagan led international efforts to restore the ozone layer. In recent years, however, Republican leaders have abandoned that tradition of conservation and become the party of polluters. They are using their opposition to environmental safeguards as a defining characteristic.
Yet our survey results reveal that casting your lot with dirty air and fossil fuels alienates voters. Committed and undecided voters alike want their president and members of Congress to clean up their air and move America toward a cleaner energy future. It’s up to those candidates with strong records on these issues to run on them.