California’s historic wildfires, combined with the climate denial views of one Republican incumbent, appear to have helped sway voters in the state to elect a Democrat in a longtime conservative congressional district during the midterm elections, new analysis shows.
On November 6, real estate developer Harley Rouda (D) defeated Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a 15-term incumbent, to represent the 48th congressional district of California, which stretches along the Pacific coastline of Orange County from Seal Beach to Laguna Beach.
In the lead-up to the elections, the League of Conservation Voters’ super PAC — LCV Victory Fund — and Independence USA PAC ran an advertisement in the district highlighting Rohrabacher’s opposition to efforts to fight climate change, while showing images of wildfires in California. And it turns out this messaging was successful.
“A majority of ideological moderates and nonpartisan voters rated this message as one of the most convincing arguments against Rohrabacher,” Pete Maysmith, LCV Victory Fund senior vice president for campaigns, wrote Tuesday in a blog post about the research.
The southern portion of California’s 48th congressional district will occasionally face destructive wildfires. But the northern parts of the district typically only experience smoke that may drift up or down the coast.
Research shows that human-caused climate change is driving wildfires to be far more destructive. California’s record-breaking 2018 wildfire season has released emissions equivalent to about 68 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
For the survey, voters in the district were asked questions about the election and the impact of the advertisement, titled “Fire & Smoke.” The script of the advertisement focused on wildfires and climate change:
While it gets hotter and fire and smoke choke our air, Dana Rohrabacher is radically opposed to efforts to fight climate change. He says that “global warming is a fraud.” Rohrabacher sided with fossil fuel companies and voted against a plan to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, saying they don’t hurt people’s health.
More than two thirds of voters in the district — including 71 percent of swing voters — recall having seen the climate advertisement.
Voters also were asked what one or two things they remembered seeing or hearing that gave them the biggest doubts about voting for Rohrabacher.
The respondents cited Rohrabacher’s stance on climate change as a main reason for their opposition, along with his ties to Putin’s Russia, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the presidency of fellow Republican Donald Trump, and Rohrabacher’s 30-year tenure in Congress.
During his time in Congress, Rohrabacher quickly built a conservative yet quirky reputation after winning election to Congress in 1988. He was one of the few members of Congress to support the legalization of marijuana but had an extremely poor environmental voting record. In his 30 years in Congress, he garnered only a 10 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
Global Strategy Group conducted the survey on behalf of the LCV Action Fund. From November 7-11, the research group surveyed 600 voters in the 48th district. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percent.
In its research, Global Strategy Group highlighted three comments from survey participants about Rohrabacher. One individual said “I don’t agree with his stances on health care and climate change.”
“He thinks climate change is a fraud. He doesn’t support affordable health care,” another commented.
The third said, “He is just no representing my values and his connection with Putin and Russia makes me feel that he is corrupt.”
“As more and more voters across the country experience the dangerous effects of climate change,” Maysmith wrote in his blog post, “localized messaging tying these impacts to the actions of their representatives in Washington will be an essential element in electing a pro-environment Senate and ensuring that we deny a second term to climate denier in chief Donald Trump.”