ODP: New polling by Data For Progress shows that progressive climate policies are popular in key battleground states and voters seem to be motivated to vote due to climate and environmental issues. But that has not been true in the past. Why is this election different? Or is it?
NS: There are a few things going on here — some of which are new, some of which are old. First, voters have long supported government action to address climate and environmental issues, but it’s noteworthy that this trend is continuing even during a deep recession. Second, it’s particularly encouraging to see this strong support for climate leadership in states like North Carolina, Arizona, and Iowa, where it hasn’t always shown up in polls. And, third, the biggest take-away for me is that climate/environment is now such a top-of-mind issue for so many voters that it’s driving their candidate preferences in Presidential and Senate polling data. Now that’s a big deal. And, honestly, this is the continuation of a trend that started back in 2016, when a constituency of “climate voters” began growing across local, state, and federal elections, such that now, almost four years later, the numbers are so big that they’ve become impossible to ignore.
ODP: In a year when we’ve seen unemployment to rival the Great Depression, jobs and the economy are understandably top voting priorities. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s robust climate plan is very much a jobs plan that invests in green infrastructure, clean energy jobs, and American manufacturing. Do you think environmental voters are seeing it this way as well?
NS: I think most environmental voters see climate as an issue that impacts every aspect of our lives — the economy, jobs, national security, public health, racial justice, and so much more. So, in that way, Joe Biden is talking about climate in a cross-disciplinary fashion that environmental voters are used to. Now, will his strong focus on green jobs satisfy everyone in the climate movement? No, but it’s certainly politically shrewd for Biden not to fall into the bogus “economy vs. the environment” trap during a recession, and instead emphasize that American environmental leadership is a great economic opportunity. That’s a climate message that, in the current environment, doesn’t have much of a political downside, and it’s got a huge upside.
ODP: How are you dealing with the issues of early, mail-in and absentee voting? Are you able to help voters have access to the ballot box if they don’t want to vote in person? When do you need volunteers to help with early voting GOTV?
NS: It’s crucially important for every American to have as many easy and safe voting options possible. So, at EVP, our volunteers are helping voters with every possible method of voting — we’re helping people sign up for Vote-by-Mail, we’re notifying people if their ballots have been delayed or rejected, we’re helping people vote early in-person, and we’ll also be doing a huge pre-Election Day GOTV blitz. So, in many ways, GOTV has already begun for us at the Environmental Voter Project, and we need as many volunteers as we can get. In fact, just last week, we contacted a whopping 600,000 voters in one single day, and we’re just getting started.
ODP: In the United States, our voting rates are still dismally low. Do you find that the environmental voters you engage and get to the polls for the first time are more likely to become regular voters?
NS: Yes. At the Environmental Voter Project, we’re using cutting-edge behavioral science to build long-term voting habits, and in less than four years we’ve already converted 253,000 non-voting environmentalists into consistent “super-voters” who vote in local, state, and federal elections. And we believe we’re seeing this long-term, cumulative impact for two reasons: (1) voting is a habit-forming behavior, so there’s a “stickiness” to voting that makes it hard to quit once it becomes part of your personality, and (2) public voter files reveal which people vote and which people don’t vote, so once we get an environmentalist to start voting, political campaigns then trip over themselves to mobilize that person in future elections, which then creates a powerful positive feedback loop. This also illustrates why every single election provides an important opportunity to grow the environmental electorate.
ODP: How can our readers help the Environmental Voter Project? Can they volunteer for you in their spare time and do it remotely?
NS: Like most nonprofits, we rely heavily on volunteers and donations. Anybody who would like to join our important work can visit our website at www.environmentalvoter.org. You can sign up for volunteer training webinars almost every single day, and then you’ll be able to text or call our targeted non-voting environmentalists at any time from the comfort of your home. It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s safe, and it will have an enormous impact on voter turnout. And, most importantly, we won’t abandon these voters after November — we’ll continue to mobilize them for future local and state elections so that our volunteers’ efforts will be built upon as part of a powerful, cumulative, electorate-building endeavor.
Thank you, Nathaniel! Friends of the Planet, we cannot recommend a better GOTV project than helping the Environmental Voter Project turn out reluctant environmental voters.