Outdoor Industry, Environmental Groups Lay Out 2018 Political Campaign Strategies After Admitting Green Agenda Lost On Voters In Previous Election

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Outdoor Industry Environmental Groups
Outdoor Industry Environmental Groups

Members of the outdoor industry and environmental groups presented strategies for political campaigns in the 2018 mid-term elections at an industry lunch in Denver on Thursday hosted by the Outdoor Industry Association and featuring representatives from activist groups like Center For Western Priorities (CWP) and the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF).

Two of the nation’s leading pollsters released polling results with strategies to elevate conservation issues in the 2018 midterms while conceding policies like climate change and public lands were low priorities for voters in the 2016 presidential election.

Lori Weigel, a Republican pollster from Public Opinion Strategies, and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a Democratic pollster, offered analysis on polling they conducted on behalf of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project. The poll’s results appeared to show a strong voter preference against actions and policies undertaken by the Trump administration since early 2017.

Both pollsters admitted that issues broadly defined within the conservation sphere—including climate change or public lands policies—did not resonate with the vast majority of voters polled, with just 2 percent naming environmental concerns as having an effect on their 2016 vote.

When the pollsters asked people to rank the issues that are most important to their votes, Metz said, “conservation issues, even though we ask them they say, ‘yeah that matters to me,’ they’re not top of mind. It’s not the first thing they think of.”

The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in eight states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

“In the last presidential election on election night we interviewed over 2,000 voters and asked them, ‘Other than personal characteristics, what were the issues?’ And they could say, literally, any issue. We recorded that and collapsed them into categories. And they could name more than one issue as well, which is sometimes where conservation gets shoved to the side,” Weigel said.

“Only 2 percent named anything relating to the environment in terms of having any bearing at all on their presidential vote. That included climate change, that included public lands, that included anything related to the environment. So if it’s only 2 percent, you’re never going to change those policies,” Weigel told the attendees.

The poll results show the difficulty of moving the political needle even after environmental donors like California billionaire Tom Steyer and his NextGen Climate Action PAC contributed as much as $100 million to the 2016 election cycle and pouring more than $74 million into the 2014 midterms.

To rehabilitate political messages on water, especially important in the West, and public lands in the 2018 midterms, Metz pointed out that candidates and their supporters could make those issues part of their messaging at the ballot box.

“Voters do care about these issues even if it’s not the first thing they think about. When we remind them, when we bring it to their attention, when we tell them, ‘you can cast a ballot that will make a difference on these issues,’ it does matter, and it rises in importance,” Metz said.

Weigel agreed, saying that candidates and races at all levels in the West that did not have environmental messaging as the centerpiece of their campaigns in the last election might see that move up the scale in November.

The outdoor industry relocated its trade shows in 2018, including this week’s Snow Show and the Summer Outdoor Retailer show, to Denver from Salt Lake City following a dustup over public lands when Utah elected officials supported the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument and more access to public lands for natural resource development.

Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director for CWP, promised a public lands-based campaign in 2018 that would resemble its efforts in the last two election cycles.

“CWP in 2014 and 2016 ran a campaign called ‘Winning the West,’ where we highlighted the fact that conservation and public lands is not a partisan issue in the West. We focused on Montana, Colorado, and Nevada,” Rokala said. “We’ll run a similar campaign in 2018 that will target candidates on both sides highlighting the fact that they can win unaffiliated vote, the swing voters who are neither Republican nor Democrat on a strong public lands position.”

“We’re all-hands-on-deck on monuments right now,” said Aaron Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, told The Hill last August, at the height over speculation on Trump’s executive order directive to Zinke on national monument review. CWP and other anti-fossil fuel organizations characterized the review as anti-public lands, a charge that elected officials in the West, including Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), called a “false” narrative.

Metz said some of the shift he and Weigel documented comes from a disruption of the status quo, as all previous surveys were done under the Obama administration, which had very different environmental priorities. Obama’s team was responsible for part of the monument review in naming Bears Ears National Monument in the waning days of its lame-duck term.

“The numbers would show how much more strongly Western voters view themselves today than they did just two years ago is potentially in reaction to the policy changes they’ve seen take place over the last couple of years,” Metz said.

Absent from the luncheon presentation was discussion about local groups within the West opposed to expanding public lands. As documented by Western Wire in December, President Trump’s announcement to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments was cheered by many tribal members, elected officials throughout the West, and local residents most directly affected by the monument designations.

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation and a Democrat, thanked Trump for the announcement in December. “Thank you Secretary [Ryan] Zinke for coming to San Juan, Kane, and Garfield counties and listening to the local grassroots people. Your boots on the ground approach was unexpected, but well received and appreciated,” she said.

“Thank you for not being a typical politician and passing us over. Thank you for caring about San Juan County. We may be only 15,000 strong, but we matter. We appreciate you willing to take the backlash from the special interest groups as you stand for the people and the economy of San Juan County,” she said.

Rokala had a different message for the current administration.

“Throughout the last year CWP has been following the Trump administration’s actions on public lands and energy policy. And it’s clear when it comes to public lands in the West, President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are on the wrong side of history and public opinion.”

But not all polling appears to side with Rokala’s claim.

Polling by the The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute, released yesterday, showed a majority (51 percent) of Utahns in support of the Bears Ears National Monument reduction, with slightly less than half (49 percent to 45 percent) supporting the reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The reductions have triggered five lawsuits.

The Hispanic Access Foundation, a Latino advocacy group with deep ties to George Soros and the New Venture Fund (Western Wire, 06/05/17), was represented by Maite Arce, President and Chief Executive Officer.

Acre called the message at the luncheon a “moral obligation,” not just for Latino communities, but for all voters. “We all share the moral obligation to protect our outdoor heritage and protect these places and preserve them as a legacy for future generations,” Arce said.

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