Recap written by: Katherine Peinhardt (Medium: @katherine.a.peinhardt)
Environmentalists are awful voters. At least, that’s how Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project put it on our most recent episode of Warm Regards. Nonetheless, U.S. voters seemed to flock to this year’s midterm polls with renewed energy. Perhaps as a result of recent hurricanes, climate change seemed to come to the forefront more than ever — and states like Florida saw unprecedented rates of early voting. But were environmentalists a part of this wave of civic activity?
Stinnett, a “voting guru” with expertise in the behavioral science behind voting, noted that in the 2016 presidential election, only half of environmentalists turned out to the polls. Studying voter behavior is tricky business, however, and it’s often difficult to isolate exactly what it is about a certain group that discourages them from casting a ballot. So is there something unique about environmentalists that keeps them from turning out to vote?
One possible reason behind the phenomenon could be the changing demographics of the environmental movement: Today’s environmentalists are likely to make less than $50,000 a year, live near urban cores, and be Black or Latinx — demographics that have had lower voter turnout in recent election years, like 2014. However, this likely does not explain the full picture for environmentalists’ voting record. No matter the cause, it’s clear that it’s not a persuasion problem, in which people need to be convinced to cast climate-smart votes. Rather, it’s a behavioral problem that revolves around convincing already-devoted environmentalists to vote.
How do we get out the environmental vote? It appears that pointing to the omnipresence of public voting records is one key answer — providing a bit of social pressure that can tip the scales just enough for someone to decide to head to their polling station. Another is good, old-fashioned word of mouth. Reminding friends and family to vote seems to be among the best ways to grow the ranks of dedicated voters. Canvassers might rejoice to find out that voting pledges also work, because they play on potential voters’ desire to be seen as trustworthy and capable of following through on a promise.
Getting the vote out is low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change, and perhaps one small solution to growing environmental anxiety — it’s a significant environmental act that’s usually easier than most individual actions, like riding a bike to work or giving up flying. Beyond that, it’s what needs to be done to build the political will behind climate solutions. What remains is a broad-scale activation of environmental voters.