Analysis: Why Voters Didn’t Buy TV Attack Ads From Fossil Fuel Interests

In four of the swing states President Obama swept, voters said energy was one of their top considerations in casting their ballot, according to a post-election poll released by the American Council on Renewable Energy and Advanced Energy Economy Ohio Institute.

These voters also indicated they were supportive of candidates advocating for clean energy (Iowa: 80%, Colorado: 75%, Virginia: 72%, Ohio: 70%).

But these states and others saw heavy outside spending in presidential and Senate races, particularly on energy issues. In many cases, myths promoted in polluter-funded ads about the so-called necessity of the Keystone XL pipeline, the “war on coal,” anti-climate legislation, and anti-clean energy ended up losing. Despite $270 million in presidential, Senate, and House ads financed by polluter-connected groups — $31 million specifically on energy issues — clean energy candidates won in races down the ballot.

Energy was far from the only issue to play a role in election outcomes, but groups piled millions of dollars into ads to push polluter issues as a top priority. And where energy issues dominated in presidential and Senate races, voters rejected polluter claims, electing the candidates backing clean energy:

KEYSTONE XL: Back in January, the American Petroleum Institute promised to make the pipeline an issue that would have “huge political consequences” for opponents. But looking at races where it came up, often backed by heavy spending, the issue did not break through to voters. Not one Senator who voted to defeat Keystone XL construction in March 2012 lost his or her race. Connie Mack, for instance, repeatedly attacked Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) over his Keystone XL opposition, and lost by a wide margin.

In addition to candidate stump speeches, the Keystone XL pipeline appeared in $1.8 million ads bought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the Virginia and New Mexico Senate races since September, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG data.

CAP AND TRADE: Of the $5.7 million of ads running against Virginia’s Tim Kaine since September by outside groups, four separate ads amounting to $2 million mention cap and trade, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG data. Ads mentioning cap and trade also aired in the Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia races.

ANTI-WIND, CLEAN ENERGY: Since September, Maine Independent Angus King faced $665,000 in anti-wind ads from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. That is four times the spending from the League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club on an ad defending King’s wind and clean energy record, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG. Outside conservative groups also spent $10.78 million on presidential campaign ads between April and October attacking the Solyndra loan or mentioning Solyndra as part of a broader attack on clean energy stimulus spending. Even after all that spending, 70 percent of voters approved of more government incentives for solar, and many voters remained unaware of Solyndra.

“WAR ON COAL” MYTH: States at the front of the coal ad war — including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia — all picked Obama. At the Senate level, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber, American Commitment, and American Future Fund, ran ads in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, respectively. These ads targeted Democrat candidates on EPA protections, claiming they hurt the coal industry — even while coal employment remains high compared to previous years.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) faced more than $50 million in conservative outside group spending. According to Kantar Media’s CMAG, Brown faced $3.8 million in ads from polluter-interest groups such as the Club for Growth, National Association of Manufacturers, Now or Never PAC, Senate Conservatives Action, and the U.S. Chamber. Many of these ads mention cap and trade and coal.

Despite the voters rejecting the messages from fossil fuel interests, the oil industry is quickly moving on. On Tuesday, API launched new ads defending Big Oil tax breaks, targeting Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2014.

5 Responses to Analysis: Why Voters Didn’t Buy TV Attack Ads From Fossil Fuel Interests

  1. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Looks like the tide has turned to me and if they want to throw away more of their NOT ‘hard earnt’, that’s fine, ME

  2. J-M says:

    If Big Oil and Coal want a war, let them have it — but if they think they can win while retaining public support and public subsidies while spewing misinformation, manipulating public officials and increasing emissions — forget it!

  3. fj says:

    Very encouraging.

  4. Don’t relax. These characters won’t go away.

  5. Jack G. Hanks says:

    How about Michigan? Proposal 3, to require a certain percentage of power be generated from green sources by 2020 failed. The ads were devastatingly nasty.