Greens Lose in Midterms

Published December 8, 2014

The Democratic Party suffered significant losses in the Nov. 4 midterm election, representing a serious setback for policies pushed by environmental groups, their political allies, and financial backers.

Many issues were on the minds of voters during the election, including Obamacare, the sluggish economy, immigration, the rise of the Islamic State, scandals at the Veterans Administration and the IRS, and President Obama’s low approval ratings. Although energy and the environment, particularly global warming, seem not to have been decisive in shaping the outcome, the new Republican-controlled Congress will likely be more critical of the administration’s regulatory agenda, based on past actions and public statements.

Voters Cool to Scares

Widespread indifference to the subject of climate change was evident in a Pew Research poll conducted September 2-9 in which the environment ranked a 8th out of 11 issues the public is concerned about.

This worked against hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate Action PAC spent a reported $67 million on candidates embracing his professed belief in impending climate disaster. Steyer donated millions of dollars to two of the midterms’ biggest losers—Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who lost his seat to Republican Cory Gardner, and Bruce Braley, who was defeated in his effort to win the open Iowa Senate seat by Republican Joni Ernst. Steyer, an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, seems to have lost on this issue as well.

The League of Conservation Voters spent $25 million on green-friendly candidates and, like Steyer, will be faced with Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, an ardent critic of the theory of dangerous anthropogenic global warming, chairing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). Under Chairman Inhofe, EPW is expected to pursue vigorous oversight of the administration’s regulatory initiatives, particularly those relating to climate change.

In one race, the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies played a decisive role. In West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district, Republican Evan Jones unseated Democrat Nick Rahall, bringing an end Rahall’s 38-year career on Capitol Hill. Republicans succeeded in tying Rahall to Obama’s anti-coal policies, which are very unpopular in coal-producing West Virginia.

Jobs Trumped Warming Fears

“To the extent climate change was an issue in the midterm elections, it was a negative one, one that fought the primary issues of a stronger economy, more jobs, and higher pay,” said Tom Randall, senior partner in the Chicago-based public issue consulting firm Winningreen, LLC. “Keystone XL was an issue that trumped global warming. In voters’ minds, it meant more jobs.

Nebulous claims of protecting the environment meant fewer jobs. “The current environmental euphemism, ‘climate change,’ fails to cut it with voters,” Randall continued. “When they hear it, they have been conditioned to hearing ‘global warming.’ In a sense, the environmentalists have trapped themselves.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ( [email protected]) is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.