Test Coming Soon for Political Power of Climate Issue


There's a test looming that will let us know the power of climate change as a political issue. In a few months, we'll see whether campaign strategists believe support for climate action is a positive or negative for candidates across the country.

Long before Richard Nixon said "run to the right in a primary election, and then to the center in a general election," politicians understood that different electorates mean emphasizing different issues.

As we've seen so far in the 2016 presidential race, candidates respond to the fact that they must first be nominated by primary voters, who lean strongly towards the ideological base of their parties.

Republicans have been talking in ways they think appeal to the Tea Party and Democrats have been emphasizing their progressive credentials.

But once the nominees are chosen, each will emphasize positions and messages that appeal more to centrist voters. The test will be who feels the need to tack more sharply to the center on particular issues, including climate change. It will show us what their internal polling data - and political judgment - tells them are the strongest positions.

Listen, particularly, to their convention acceptance speeches and rehearsed lines in the fall debates - when they're facing the broadest audiences of all - and see how they talk about climate change. If you hear "hoax" or "drill, baby, drill" you'll know they believe climate action is a political loser. If you hear a pro-climate action candidate stressing the urgency of the problem - and soft sounding talk about clean energy from a candidate who opposed climate action during the primaries -- you'll know the issue is seen as having political power.

Given the polling that shows about 2/3 of Americans want to limit carbon pollution, and the overwhelming desire for climate action from younger voters who were so important in 2008 and 2012, it seems clear to me that talking about climate solutions is the smart political play. But sometimes - despite all their access to data - it takes a while for political candidates and strategists to catch up.

Either way, be on the lookout for a new conventional wisdom on the politics of climate change, arriving about the same time as this summer's political conventions.

On Twitter @RealKeithGaby

Read more about environmental issues on EDF Voices.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson