Climate change a priority in early voting states

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Climate change could be a priority for Democrats when they begin casting votes next month.

The issue ranked second among registered voters in Iowa and New Hampshire in a CBS/YouGov poll released Monday.

In Iowa, 20% of respondents said they want Democratic candidates for president to discuss climate change more. That’s second to health care, which was cited by 39% of potential voters as an issue they want to hear more about. Climate change nudged out jobs and the economy, which came in third with 18%.

The Iowa caucuses are Feb. 3.

In New Hampshire, 29% of respondents said climate change is the top issue they want Democratic candidates to talk about before the primary election on Feb. 11. That ranked only behind health care, which was cited as the most important issue by 33% of voters. Thirteen percent pointed to jobs and the economy.

The nation’s first voters in the 2020 presidential contest will have plenty of candidates to choose from. All of the Democratic hopefuls have promised to address climate change.

That stands to make it difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves in a crowded field of competitors vying for the Democratic nomination, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst and the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

“I am not sure that Democratic primary voters are using climate change proposals as a way to differentiate among their various choices,” he wrote in an email. “Unlike, for instance, Medicare for All, disagreements on specific climate change actions have not been a prominent part of the debate amongst the candidates.”

Democratic voters in other states want the candidates to prioritize climate change, as well.

In California, where wildfires and drought have transformed the landscape in recent years, half of Democratic voters rank climate change as their top priority, compared with about a third who prioritize health care, according to a Los Angeles Times poll released last month. Other polls released last year showed that climate change is a top issue for Democratic voters in key battleground states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Despite the prominence of climate change as a concern, the issue is unlikely to sway undecided voters in the general election, Kondik noted. He said voters who prioritize it at the ballot box have already made their choice.

“My guess is that climate voters, to the extent they exist, are likelier to already be Democrats as opposed to swing voters given the differences between the two parties on that broad issue,” Kondik wrote.