The Issue That Could Derail Marco Rubio’s Presidential Chances With Latino Voters

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

This May 17, 2014, file photo shows Blanca Mesa of Miami protesting against Sen. Marco Rubio's statements on climate change as activists and beach-goers join hands in a Hands across the Sand demonstration in Miami Beach, Fla.

When Marco Rubio announces his bid for President Monday, he’ll become one of two candidates of Latino descent in the running. But Rubio’s history of denial of human-caused climate change isn’t likely to help his case among Latino voters, a group that, as a whole, is among the strongest supporters of U.S. action on climate change.

Rubio’s long been open about his doubt that climate change is being caused by humans. Last year, Rubio said that he didn’t agree that “somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate.” According to Rubio, the Earth’s climate “is always changing,” and in saying that climate change is real, scientists have taken “a handful of decades of research and — and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to manmade activity.”

These opinions not only put him in opposition to with the 97 percent of climate scientists that believe climate change is happening and is human-caused, they also directly conflict the views of most Latino voters. A 2014 poll found that nine out of 10 Latinos in the U.S. — including 68 percent of Republican Latinos — want the U.S. to take action against climate change. Matt Barreto, co-founder of polling firm Latino Decisions, said when the poll was announced that immigration was the only other issue where he’d seen such consistent support among Latinos.

A poll from this year found that Latinos were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to say that climate change was an issue that was “very important” to them personally, and were also more likely to say that climate change would end up hurting them personally.

This polling data is not surprising to Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, a Latino-centric advocacy group. He told ThinkProgress that, because many Latinos live in regions of the U.S. that are among the most vulnerable to climate change — Florida with its rising seas, and the Southwest with its droughts and wildfires — they feel the effects of it first-hand. For Rubio — a politician from climate-vulnerable Florida who comes from a Cuban background — to deny that humans are causing climate change is “really an embarrassment,” Carmona said.

“To project policy positions that question the undeniable, unified position of the scientific community is pretty outrageous,” he said. “[Rubio] says he cant confirm the science…that’s a slimy position that is an embarrassment for the interests of Latino community.”

In addition to being vulnerable to the broader impacts of climate change, the Latino population is also among the most vulnerable to air pollution in the United States. Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups, and about half the country’s Latino population lives in regions that frequently violate clean air rules, according to the National Hispanic Medical Association. And as the climate warms, that vulnerability will only worsen: the increase in ozone levels associated with rising temperatures is predicted to drive up asthma-related U.S. hospital admissions.

Rubio also said in 2013 that efforts to combat climate change won’t make a difference because “government can’t change the weather,” and because countries like China and India are bigger polluters than the U.S. is now.

“They’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing,” he said. “America is a country, it’s not a planet. So we can pass a bunch of laws or executive orders that will do nothing to change the climate or the weather but will devastate our economy.”

Carmona said statements like that are “absolutely” going to play into Latinos’ decisions on whether or not to vote for Rubio.

“The fact that he’s so out of touch with the views and positions of Latinos on key economic, immigration, and other issues including the environment, it will be a major reason why he will not connect with Latino voters,” Carmona said. “Latino voters will reject political candidates that don’t reflect their views.”

If Rubio wanted to get serious about attracting Latino voters, Carmona said, he could start by changing his message on climate change. He could show support for this year’s upcoming U.N. climate talks in Paris, and could support the federal government’s recent proposal to cut emissions from fossil fuel power plants. Given Rubio’s previous statements on climate change and federal action — he said Americans would “pay a terrible price” for executive actions like the Clean Power Plan — this about-face isn’t likely, however.