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The Dartmouth
February 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dunleavy: A Political Climate

Democrats must adjust messaging on their environmental policies to win moderate Republican votes in 2024.

Winning the votes of environmentally-conscious Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters would be a huge boost for Democrats in 2024. According to the Climate Center in 2020, 68% of all Republicans between the ages of 18 and 54 report climate change as an important factor in casting their vote — a camp large enough to bolster the Democrat’s support base in the upcoming election. But securing that cohort’s vote will require Democrats to adjust their party’s messaging around climate change policies — specifically, the party should assuage Republican concerns surrounding any potential negative economic impacts of environmental efforts and the issue’s politicization. To do so, they must emphasize the popularity of President Biden’s climate policies among non-Democrats, as well as their economic benefits — particularly the benefits they could bring to blue-collar workers.

Persuading Republican-leaning independents and moderate Republicans to vote for Democrats is well within the Democratic Party’s ability in 2024 should he choose to run again. A third of Republicans are pessimistic about the future of the GOP, making moderate Republican votes ripe for the taking. However, these voters worry about economic impacts and have a distaste for Democratic or leftist labels on environmental policies. Democrats seeking to leverage environmental policies must clearly integrate those concerns into their platforms.

To begin, Democratic campaigns should stress Biden’s climate policies are not centered around the interests of solely left-leaning Americans but instead respond to the majority of Americans’ concerns, including Republicans. Environmental issues are a topic of high concern and priority for the majority of Americans, as two thirds of Americans view climate change as an emergency. Nearly two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning voters and the vast majority of moderate Republicans think the United States needs to prioritize developing renewable energy over expanding fossil fuels, according to a survey from 2019. A little less than two-thirds of moderate Republicans support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants.

Building on that, Democrats must disprove the idea that their policies are a mechanism for pushing through some sort of nefarious leftist agenda. Democrats certainly have their work cut out for them. For decades, right-wing media outlets like Fox News have declared global warming a “climate hoax” used by Democrats to enact supposedly oppressive and restrictive economic policies.

For example, Republican politicians and conservative commentators pushed a narrative earlier this year that Democrats were out to remove gas stoves from restaurants and people’s homes. Following reports that gas stove pollutants harmed the environment and human health, particularly that of children, many conservatives whipped themselves into a frenzy. Twenty Republican-controlled state legislatures even passed laws preemptively outlawing bans on gas stoves. Texas Representative Ronny Jackson tweeted “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” On Fox News, Tucker Carlson said Democrats wanted to ban gas stoves because, “banning things other people like and enjoy is the purest expression of power. When you can snatch someone’s pleasure away, you feel like God.” In reality, the Biden administration has explicitly declared that it has no intention of banning gas stoves, and only local governments have taken action to regulate gas appliances in new construction.

Moreover, many Republicans are hostile to a perception of “wokeism” on the left and oppose redistributing resources to historically marginalized communities. As a result, some pro-environment Republicans view Biden and other Democrats’ environmental justice initiatives as unfair policies that prioritize certain races over others instead of prioritizing locations with the most severe environmental damage. Democrats’ environmental messaging can dodge accusations of pursuing a leftist agenda by highlighting the popularity and widespread benefits of Biden’s individual climate policies, as well as by assuring voters that consumer choice won’t be forcefully taken from them.

To spotlight Biden’s environmental policies as benefiting the average American, Democrats should call attention to his fruitful solar panel policies. Solar panels are very popular, with 86% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters and 93% of moderate Republicans supporting an increase in the number of solar panel farms in 2019. The poll’s results show Biden’s environmental policies do reflect the average American’s political values. The Biden administration’s efforts are on track to triple the amount of domestic solar panel manufacturing by 2024, decreasing reliance on China’s solar panel technology and creating American jobs. Both of these are priorities for many Republicans. Biden’s solar panel policies will also lead to over a billion dollars in savings on energy bills across six states via a new pilot program, which Democrats can advertise as his successful work to decrease bills for the average American.

The right messaging can convince more Republicans that environmental policies help the economy. According to a 2020 survey analysis by Resources for the Future, 52% of Republicans think policies to reduce global warming do not harm the U.S. economy, and 82% of Republicans think the U.S. government doing more to reduce global warming would not impact their chances of working a good-paying job. These statistics show Republicans are open to be persuaded of the economic benefits of environmental policies.

Furthermore, companies are building new steel mills, battery plants and electric vehicle factories — all under Biden’s environmental policies. New clean energy jobs, like solar and wind energy technicians, are also being created. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is expected to create over half a million jobs, most of which are in blue-collar industries. Moreover, Biden’s American Jobs Plan — part of his Build Back Better program — is expected to create more than a million green jobs per year. The majority of those jobs will be high-paying and will not require college degrees. The law has spurred jobs across the economy in sectors as broad as construction, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and healthcare.

Most importantly, Democratic messaging surrounding these new jobs should focus on testimonies from new green workers, instead of entrusting bureaucrats to trumpet information on Biden’s climate policy successes. Recently, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg earned criticism for wearing dress shoes while visiting the train derailment site in East Palestine, drawing a sharp contrast between the secretary and the muddy working boots of the workers surrounding him. Democrats' increasing association as the party of coastal elites, white-collar workers and college degree-holders alienates the rural and blue-collar voters who make up much of the Republican base. Relying on highly-educated bureaucrats or wealthy coastal elite politicians to spread Democratic messaging does not help the image of a party whose leadership already appears out of touch to many blue-collar workers. 

With a few reasonable alterations, the Democratic Party may be able to win over a significant portion of young and moderate Republicans. However, if Democrats refuse to adapt their messaging, they risk losing this narrow window of opportunity to persuade Republicans that Democratic policies are successful solutions for widely held concerns like adjusting to increasingly dangerous climate change. As the U.S. continues to shape its climate change plans, losing environmentally-concerned voters should not be a gamble Democrats are willing to take.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.