The Politics of Climate Change: A Young Independent Voter Perspective

by einsteinapple

Independent Voter

Independent Voter

As much as we would like to believe that elections come down to the votes of the entire population, its not as simple as that, is it ?

Any presidential candidate hopes to tick at least each of these three boxes: energize his (her) own base of supporters, win back (or sustain) the independents, and in a good year – potentially get a few of the opposition voters to his side by pandering to their base. There are different strategies to how all the three boxes can be successfully checked, and more often than not  – previous successful presidential candidates have achieved the trifecta.

In a very unique case of the 2008 elections, the entire landscape of the voting population changed significantly  – especially african americans and the younger demographics. Since the Obama campaign strategy team determined that there simply were not enough voters who would vote for their candidate (over Clinton to start with) – for them to win, they engendered such an incredulous level of political activism at the grass roots level. It eventually resulted in millions of new voters (especially, african americans and young college kids) being added to the ballot that it is quite possible the democratic party achieved what was previously called – ‘Impossible‘. If you cannot find sufficient voters who will vote for you in the existing structure, then add new members to the structure who will most probably vote for your candidate (Audacity to Win – David Plouffe) [1].

As they always say, ‘You Campaign in Poetry but Govern in Prose‘ – right ? Each election comes down to a multitude of factors, some of which are under your control, but a good fraction of it is not. Perhaps, economy, election year issues, sending clear messages to the public, integrity of the candidate, and  even the degree of success of the incumbent rank right up there in terms of factors that govern the results of a presidential election.

Among many election year issues (which I hope to discuss between now and November), the economy ranks first. I can reasonably assume that national security, gun laws and second amendment rights, immigration policy and deportation of illegal immigrants, clean energy and climate change management, and abortion laws in the country – are always usual candidates for discussion during presidential debates.

At the risk of over-simplifying, it is not entirely unreasonable to say that independents determine the election results more than the supporters on the right and left. Let us look at the electoral votes, Bush – Gore (271 – 266) in 2000, Bush V Kerry (286 – 251) in 2004, and Obama – McCain (365 – 173) in 2008. If the base remains loyal to their own parties, then it is indeed the independents who determine the elections.

With that as a reasonable premise, let us look at how our younger demographic thinks about climate change. This survey conducted by Stanford University in 2011 (with Ipsos and Reuters) – asked the youngest member in each house (and they took demographic variability into account) about their beliefs on the various dimensions of climate change [2].

Among the respondents, 91% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans believed the the temperature of our planet has been increasing consistently over the years. Where as, only 38% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans believe that climate change is caused by only anthropogenic (i.e. human driven) activities. There is more: 88% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. There is a clear and consistent pattern that highlights a Republican’s lack of belief in climate change, and a comparatively higher degree of belief on the part of a Democrat with regards to the same issue.

If you look at the independents, 84% believe the temperatures of our planet has been increasing consistently, 25% believe climate change is caused by human activities, and 70% believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. Perhaps most interestingly, almost two thirds of younger independents believe that climate change is caused by anthropogenic activities (either partially, or to a higher degree).  We can quite clearly see that independents are indeed – ‘Independents’. They find themselves some where in the middle between Democrats and Republicans. One hopes that they would demand for policy changes that reflect their beliefs in the near future, and depending on which candidate they think will implement such policies – they would cast their votes, come November.

The very phrase Climate Change (or the less accurate term – Global Warming) has been dragged through the mud so much that it is considered as a loaded and a politically toxic term in Washington these days. As we discussed earlier, presidential elections are determined by a number of election year issues and talking points.

The landscape of new voters is in continuous transition – with an increasing fraction of mexican american population being able to vote currently (as they become legal), parts of Arizona and New Mexico are tending towards becoming battleground states in 2012. At the least, one fifth of the voting demographic is between 18 and 24 years old nation wide (and it tends towards one fourth in certain locations in the west coast) [3]. If our reasonable premise of party loyalties hold true – then come November 2012, can the Republicans convince more than two thirds of younger independents that they are incorrect about their beliefs in climate change ? This in essence highlights the power of education to help shape the future of our children. Education is one of the best policy tools available for us to create more informed and environmentally sensitive voters in the future.

If environment and climate change is a serious talking point in this election, based on which the younger independents vote – then the Republicans needs to change their talking points – President Obama holding a Kenyan passport  might be a good place to start with.


1. Audacity to Win: David Plouffe

2. Stanford University and National Survey on American Public Opinion Study – Link

3. Young Voter Demographics – Census Bureau