Ep. 51: Environmentalists Could Change Election Outcomes. They Just Need to Vote.


Historically, polls have shown that environmentalists are terrible at voting. In the 2014 midterm election, more than 15 million environmentalists didn't show up on Election Day. And to be clear, all of them were already registered and already committed to environmental issues. So why are they so bad at voting? And will they turn out this time?

We dig into the topic with Nathaniel Stinnett, founder of the non-partisan organization, Environmental Voter Project. He has a plan for getting environmentalists to the polls on November 6th, but he says first you have to rethink the stereotype.

“They are no longer the yuppies who drive a Prius and go hiking on weekends,” Stinnett says. “The people who are most likely to care deeply about climate and environmental issues are African-American, Latino, live within five miles of an urban core, and make less than $50,000 dollars a year.”

Stinnett says focusing on the millions of environmentalists who don’t vote presents an enormous opportunity to influence election outcomes because changing people's habits is easier than changing their minds.

“We live in a weird post- truth world where it's increasingly hard to change anybody's mind about anything,” he says. “I don't know if you've ever tried to change a climate denier’s mind; I’d rather claw my eyes out. But finding people who don't need to have their minds changed and just getting them out the door on election day…. I won't claim that's easy but it's a heck of a lot easier.”

When environmentalists don't vote, there are enormous implications. The obvious one is it impacts whom we elect. But an even bigger implication, Stinnett argues, is the impact it has on policy made on the federal, state and local levels And the reason is at the heart of the work the Environmental Voter Project does: politicians don’t waste time talking to people who don’t vote.

“It might sound cynical but it shouldn't surprise us,” Stinnett says. “Why on Earth would a politician care about the opinions of non-voters. We wouldn't expect Ford Motor Company to care about the opinions of 3-year-olds, right?  So when environmentalists don't show up, there is no reason for politicians to prioritize our issues.”

LISTEN to the entire episode to hear about the Environmental Voter Project’s strategy to get environmentalists to turn out on November 6th, how the environment is playing out as an issue on the campaign trail, and if Trump’s policies are creating a new wave of environmental voters:

This episode is hosted by Julie Grant. Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front, a Pittsburgh-based environmental reporting project.

Follow Eric Lipton on Twitter and read his New York Times reporting here.

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