Frustrated that nobody seems to care about climate change, “the country’s biggest individual political donor during the 2014 election cycle,” has pledged even more in 2016. Tom Steyer spent nearly $75 million in the 2014 midterms, reports Politico. He intends to “open his wallet even wider” now.
But just what do his millions get him in this “crucial election”? Based on history, not much.
In 2014, his NextGen Climate Action group specifically targeted seven races. Only three went his way—to Democrats.
In Iowa, the group “invested in billboards and television and radio, newspaper, and webads,” to target Republicans and “agitate for more conversation about the topic in debates.” According to Politico, NextGen “attempted to convince Iowans to caucus for a candidate based on that candidate’s energy plan.” They “identified over 42,000 voters in the state who tapped climate change as a voting priority”…“over 1,500 were registered Republicans.” With 357,983 people participating the Iowa caucus, Steyer’s efforts reflect just 11.7% of voters and less than 1% of Republicans.
Steyer’s millions were spent trying to get people to vote based on “energy plans.” Only one candidate’s energy policy got any real media coverage: Ted Cruz’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, also known as the ethanol mandate. He won the Republican caucus, ahead of Donald Trump who pandered to the powerful lobbying group: America’s Renewable Future. (Since then, Archer Daniels Midland, the biggest proponent and producer of ethanol, may be scaling back, which according to the Financial Times, “suggests the reality for this industry has changed.”)
Perhaps Steyer needs to realize his reality has changed.
On February 11, Politico released survey results from “a bipartisan panel of respondents” who it claims are “Republican and Democratic insiders”…“activists, strategists, and operatives in the four early nominating states” who answered the questions anonymously. The results? As one Republican respondent from South Carolina (SC) put it: “Climate change is simply not a front burner issue to most people.” A Nevada Democrat agreed: “I don’t believe this is a critical issue for many voters when compared to the economy and national security.”
One SC Republican said that no “blue-collar swing voter” ever said: “I really like their jobs plan, but, boy, I don’t know about their position on climate change.” Over all, the Republicans don’t think that opposing public policy to address the perceived threats of climate change will hurt their candidates. The topic never came up in the recent SC Republican debate.
Steyer sees that on the issue of climate change, “the two parties could not be further apart.” However, the “insider” survey found that Democrats were split on the issue. When asked if “disputing the notion of manmade climate change would be damaging in the general election,” some thought it would, but others “thought climate change isn’t a major issue for voters.” One SC Democrat pointed out: “The glut of cheap energy sources makes Green technology less of an immediate priority for Congress, investors, and the voting public.”
While we are far from the days, of “drill, baby drill,” when asked about increasing production, Republicans see that their pro-development policies are unaffected by “price fluctuations.” A SC Republican stated: “Most Republicans view this issue through a national security lens. Low prices might diminish the intensity, but GOP voters will still want America to be energy independent regardless of oil prices.”
On February 12, Politico held a gathering called “Caucus Energy South Carolina” that featured several of the SC “insiders” among whom the host said are “influential voices,” who offer “keen insight into what’s going on on the ground.”
There, Mike McKenna, who has consulted a wide variety of political and corporate clients with respect to government relations, opinion research, marketing, message development, and strategies, and who has served as an external relations specialist at the U.S. Department of Energy, declared: “Energy is a second tier issue. Climate change is fifth tier. Nobody cares about it. It is always at the bottom.”
The climate change agenda has been the most expensive and extensive public relations campaign in the history of the world. Gallup has been polling on this issue for 25 years. Despite the herculean effort, fewer people are worried about climate change today than 25 years ago. Pew Research Center has repeatedly found that when given a list of concerns regarding the public’s policy priorities, respondents put jobs and economy at the top of the list, with climate change at the bottom. Polling done just before the UN climate conference in Paris, found that only 3% of Americans believe that climate change is the most important issue facing America.
Even Democrat Jane Kleeb, an outspoken opponent of the Keystone pipeline, acknowledged that climate change, as an issue, doesn’t move people to act.
David Wilkins, a former U.S. Ambassador to Canada who has worked on issues such as energy, national security, and the environment, said that voters are “not going to let the environment trump the economy.” He believes there will be a reapplication for the Keystone pipeline and that eventually it will be built. Another insider, Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, disagreed, saying: “People don’t want to be energy dependent.” To which Wilkins quipped: “All the more reason to get oil from our friends.”
When it comes to energy, there are clearly differences between the parties, but strangely both agree that climate change isn’t “a major issue for voters.”
But don’t tell Steyer—or Senator Bernie Sanders. Steyer has praised Sanders for his public stand on climate change saying that he’s brought it up “repeatedly,” calling it a “national security issue” and “the number one issue facing Americans”—despite the fact that polling indicates otherwise.
As if he were channeling Steyer, in his New Hampshire victory speech, Sanders declared: “We will not allow back into the White House a political party … that cannot even acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change.” He continued: “The debate is over. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in this country and around the world. We have a moral responsibility to work with countries throughout the world to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
Since nobody cares about climate change in the 2016 presidential campaign, except for Sanders and influential Democrat billionaire donor Steyer (who stands to gain financially from his advocacy), unfortunately one can easily guess where a chunk of his millions will go. Sanders will no longer be able to claim that all his donations are small.