Nathaniel Stinnett is the Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project that works to significantly increase voter demand for environmental leadership by identifying inactive environmentalists and then turning them into consistent activists and voters.
ODP: Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. Do you think climate change and environmental protection are important issues to voters in 2020 regardless of political party?
NS: Absolutely. Our research at the Environmental Voter Project shows that a stunning 14% of registered voters now list “addressing climate change and protecting the environment” as their single top priority over all other issues. This is in stark contrast to the 2016 Presidential election, where polls showed climate/environment as the top issue of only 2%-6% of registered voters. We’re seeing this surge across the board in most groups of voters.
ODP: Your research shows that “frequent voters” are more likely to have a favorable view of the President. The Environmental Voter Project is focused on increasing turnout among people who care about the environment but are “infrequent voters.” Why? How much of an improvement are you hoping for in the Super Tuesday states where you are working?
NS: The environmental movement has a turnout problem. In election after election, millions (sometimes tens of millions) of environment-first voters don’t vote. At the Environmental Voter Project, we’re laser-focused on simply fixing this one problem – we want climate-first and environment-first voters to flood the polls whenever there’s an election (local, state, or federal). In short, we’re trying to change people’s behavior, rather than change their opinions, because we think that getting already-persuaded environmentalists to vote is the easiest and cheapest way to build environmental political power. As for Super Tuesday, we view these elections just like any election (from City Council up to President) – Tuesday’s elections are a great opportunity to leverage the latest behavioral psychology, talk to millions of our target environmentalists, and begin to significantly change their voting habits. With an army of over 3,000 volunteers, we’ve already texted, called, and canvassed 500,000 of these infrequently voting environmentalists just for the Super Tuesday elections. Throughout 2020, we plan to
communicate with 6 million environmentalists across 12 states.
ODP: Where is the Environmental Voter Project (EVP) focusing its efforts in 2020? Are you seeing success already in the states like New Hampshire and Nevada that have already held their primaries?
NS: The Environmental Voter Project will be using its unique data-driven approach to increase environmental voter turnout this year in 12 states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. What all of these states have in common is that we’ve identified disproportionately large populations of non-voting environmentalists in these states, so EVP will use every election (local, state, and federal) as an opportunity to nudge these environmentalists into becoming more consistent voters. We had tremendous success in over 600 state and municipal elections in 2019, and we’re going to keep pushing hard throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2020. We don’t yet have updated voter data from our recent work in the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucus, but we were thrilled to have contacted over 95,000 voters in those two elections.
ODP: There is lots of evidence that minority voters – Latinx, African-American, and Asian voters of any age – are increasingly motivated by climate and environmental issues. Are you seeing that? And as a result, are environmental voters who belong to these groups more likely to be victims of voter suppression efforts in your view?
NS: Yes, in every one of the 12 states that EVP works in, our research shows that people of color are significantly more likely to list climate/environment as their top priority than white people are. And this definitely means that the environmental movement needs to worry about voter suppression because every time the government makes it harder for black and brown people to vote, they are directly attacking the power of the environmental movement. This applies equally to voter suppression efforts aimed at young people, who also care deeply about climate and environmental issues. In fact, chances are that whenever anybody is suppressing someone’s vote, they’re keeping an environmental ballot from being cast.
ODP: What is the key message you would deliver to the Democratic Presidential candidates who are still in the race? Are they emphasizing environmental issues enough?
NS: Americans are prioritizing climate and the environment now more than ever, and the number of climate-first voters are surging so quickly that it’s almost hard to keep track of. Any politician who ignores climate voters in 2020 does so at their peril.
Thanks so much, Nathaniel, and good luck tomorrow turning out environmental voters in your Super Tuesday states! We need as many environmental voters as possible to turn out tomorrow and in November!