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Media shocked Democrats are campaigning for climate action and clean energy

Yet climate solutions like wind and solar have long been overwhelmingly popular.

People march in Washington DC to protest President Trump's anti-climate policies. April 29, 2017. CREDIT: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images.
People march in Washington DC to protest President Trump's anti-climate policies. April 29, 2017. CREDIT: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images.

In the face of a presidential administration that has widely embraced climate science denial, Democratic candidates across the country are putting climate action and clean energy at the forefront of their campaigns.

But while polling has long shown that both are winning issues, media outlets like the New York Times, Politico, and the L.A. Times seem stunned that so many candidates are now explicitly talking about the dangers of climate change and the need to transition to 100 percent renewable power.

For instance, the New York Times reported Thursday that “across the country, there’s been a small explosion of political ads about global warming.” The paper points to ads by Steve Sisolak (D), running for governor of Nevada, by Sean Casten (D), running for an Illinois house seat, and “by more than two dozen other candidates in tight races.”

But the Times article opens by claiming, “Conventional political wisdom says you don’t talk about climate change on the campaign trail. That’s mostly because it’s a deeply polarizing issue.”

In reality, polls have made clear for years that climate action is only polarizing in the sense that a vocal minority of voters — mostly conservative Republicans — reject the science and any serious action. But a majority of Americans support climate action and clean energy like solar and wind power.

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For instance, one recent survey found that 71 percent of independents were more likely to support a candidate who favored taking action on climate change.

But this is not new. More than five years ago, ThinkProgress reported on a poll conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication that found climate action was a winning political issue.

In fact, surveys show climate solutions like renewable energy are a “wedge issue” that divide conservative male GOP voters from Democrats, independents, and even moderate/liberal Republicans.

Back in 2011, Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick and his colleagues analyzed the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterm elections to compare the performance of candidates who supported climate action with those who opposed it.

“Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” explained Krosnick. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.”

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Nonetheless, some members of the media appear shocked by candidates who choose to campaign on a winning issue this cycle. On Tuesday, the L.A. Times reported that, “in a year when Democrats hope to make major gains, climate and clean energy have been pushed into a starring role in campaign ads in several parts of the country.”

However, the piece goes on repeat the assertion found in many mainstream media assessments: “For years, conventional wisdom among political strategists has labeled climate change as a politically weak issue, a concern of environmental activists but not the mass of voters.”

To be clear, if there has been a (mistaken) belief “for years” that voters don’t care about this issue, that (misguided) “conventional wisdom” has being driven in part by the fact that the media itself has been ignoring or downplaying the climate issue for years.

Equally problematic, when given a chance to question candidates in public debates, the media rarely if ever raises the climate issue. No wonder they are surprised when candidates actually bring the issue up themselves in their campaigns.

It should be a surprise to no one that Democrats are campaigning on a popular issue, and that more of them are doing so in the face of a president who has  labeled climate change a “hoax” and done more to undermine climate action than any other.

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It’s time for the media to catch up with the public and start covering the issue fully, specifically by routinely pressing candidates of both parties in debates and interviews to explain their stance on the gravest of threats to our health and well-being.