Economy Trumps Climate Change for Voters in 2012

By Clara Pak

Ask the average American what he or she believes to be the most important issue in this upcoming presidential election, and what will he or she say?

Do you even have to ask? Watch the news, read the headlines, tune into the recent presidential candidates’ speeches and you’ll know.

The economy. The economy. The economy.

Photo by diylol.com

To confirm this with polling of our own, my team partner (@caseywestonwood) and I walked over to the White House last Sunday afternoon and asked six people–regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation–this question: “What national issue is our country’s top priority?”

“Economy and unemployment,” each replied. No surprise there. In this recent study, the economy emerged as Americans’ top priority for the new president and Congress with 76% saying it was a very high priority. All other issues such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, and education were considerably lower than the economy in terms of priority. Alas, climate change placed 10th out of 11 national issues with 21% regarding global warming to be a very high priority.

The Yale/George Mason study and our personal interviews illustrate global warming to be a national priority but when compared to the economy, it is viewed to be less of a concern. Those we interviewed acknowledged that global warming was an existing issue for the country, but that they would not place it above certain other issues such as health care, the two current wars, and yes–the economy.

The challenge, therefore, is not to convince people anymore that global warming is actually taking place. (Besides, how can you argue against the U.S.’s recent historic drought or the country having just endured the hottest July ever?) But it is crucial now to open up the discussion to everyone–regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation–and to discuss complex questions like “How will the country take the proper and necessary steps to curb carbon dioxide emissions and to invest in renewable energy sources?” Or start to try at least.

But will we only begin to engage in real discussion after November 6, Election Day?

Climate change essentially has been pushed out of the conversation this election season. The issue was barely discussed at both national conventions: Romney used climate change to direct derisive laughter toward Obama in his speech while Obama fought back in his speech with his defense of climate action. This election, Romney and the GOP have adopted the role of climate change skeptics and for Obama, it’s a guessing game for Democrats and journalists if or what Obama will say about climate change.

I concede I understand why climate change has taken a back seat to the economy and unemployment in this election. If I put myself in the shoes of a young father who just got laid off from his job due to his company’s downsizing or a recent college graduate burdened with 50,000+ dollars in student loans entering into a dismal 8.1% unemployment job environment, it’s hard to say climate change still wins out in importance. But then again, juxtaposing our climate change problem–which is seemingly abstract in nature–with these unfortunate, very real situations is also unfair. I don’t think it’s smart for our species… or for our politics.

If you found my post interesting or would like to discuss more, let’s connect. Find me at @pennibean! We can #THINKFWD.

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One thought on “Economy Trumps Climate Change for Voters in 2012

  1. Hi Clara,

    You do an excellent job here of balancing entertaining and serious. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. The links are great, but you could have used 1 or 2 more photos or graphics. I would also consider a headline that is a bit more specific to your topic, such as “Economy Trumps Climate Change for Voters in 2012.” That way you get a lot of keywords into your title that people will be searching for online.

    Overall, very well written. Great job.

    ~Melissa

    P.S. Make sure to make the midnight deadline!!!

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