For Democratic candidates, climate issues are a litmus test–but Rabe wonders for how long

March 21, 2019

With the 2020 presidential election cycle picking up pace, analysts are noticing thematic trends in candidate platforms. For Democratic hopefuls, one essential theme is having strong answers to climate issues. In Elvina Nawaguna’s March 19, 2019, article for Roll Call titled “On the campaign trail, climate change can no longer be ignored,” Nawaguna cites Professor Barry Rabe’s concerns that this attention to environmental policy may take a back seat after the primary.

Those running for the Democratic nomination are rushing to make their take on climate change known as polls indicate such issues are of gaining interest among likely Democratic voters. This is in contrast to the current presidential administration’s tone of dismissal to concerns over the climate. To this end, Professor Rabe says “It will probably play pretty well in the primaries,” going on to warn that “The problem is what happens when you get through the primaries.” Democrats will need to attract more middle-ground voters who are worried about the cost such environmental actions might take, and will have to make an economic case for their benefit.  

But candidates seem to be focusing on how to convey the urgency of climate issues to voters, bolstered by young activists and the effect of the Green New Deal. Rabe comments on this urgency, stating “What we are seeing is really building on some of the recent climate reports that began to show that this is a more immediate threat to health and the environment, but also the economy.”

Whether or not the increased activism will persevere through the general election is yet to be seen, and Rabe says that in order for the momentum to maintain, activists need to ensure people get out to vote.

Read the full article on Roll Call.

Barry Rabe is the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy and the director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Ford School. He is also the Arthur Thurnau Professor of Environmental Policy and holds courtesy appointments in the Program in the Environment, the Department of Political Science, and the School for Environment and Sustainability.