Never Mind the RNC — This Is What Voters Care About This Election

by Cassady Craighill

July 20, 2016

Despite their absence from the Republican National Convention, voters prioritize campaign finance reform and action on climate change.

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Photo by Ian Foulk / Greenpeace.

This election cycle has been a wild ride so far, and we still have several months before we actually cast a vote for our next president. Candidates come and go, but it’s the issues that remain. As the largest generation making up the U.S. electorate, our country’s leaders should be listening to millennials when it comes to issues to prioritize, and according to a recent poll of voters aged 18-34 in a handful of swing states, two key issues reign supreme.

Money in politics and climate change.

The voters polled live in Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — all states that are dealing with the impacts of climate change, fracking, and a democracy taken hostage by fossil fuel companies.

READ MORE about how oil and gas companies are spending big to silence the voices of Coloradans against fracking.

It should come as no surprise that these two issues rise to the top for so many.

People know that we cannot make progress on climate change if we have fossil fuel money influencing politicians and lawmakers. The money politicians take from special interests drowns out the voices that are crying out — literally in some cases — for action on critical issues like climate change, social justice, gun control, and LGBTQ rights. That is not democracy. That is a pay-to-play system and people are fed up.

The voters polled identified three interest groups as the most harmful to the democratic process: Wall Street banks, oil and gas companies, and one percent donors like the Koch Brothers. They are right. According to an investigative report from the New York Times last year, just 158 families provided nearly half of the early money for the race to the White House, and the primary industries represented are finance and energy.

Yes, Americans get it.

A plurality polled said they would be very likely to support a candidate who takes the following five progressive positions:

  1. Overturning Citizens United
  2. Requiring corporations to disclose lobbying activities and obtain shareholder approval of political donations
  3. Banning government employees from working at a corporation they once regulated and banning corporate executives from government jobs overseeing their own industry
  4. Refusing to accept campaign contributions from political organizations and lobbyists associated with the fossil fuel industry
  5. Introducing a ban on oil drilling, coal mining and fracking on public land

So what are the two major parties doing about these issues?

When it comes to campaign finance reform and climate change, the Democratic platform and the Republican platform may as well have come from two different planets. The GOP platform, approved this week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, proposes to do away with campaign contribution limits, opposes disclosure of contributions from organizations so that “dark money” stays dark, and denounces any form of public financing in elections.

So when the majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, agree that money has too much influence on politics and that candidates promote the interests of their big donors, not the people, the Republican party answered with a resounding, “Great. Now, let’s flood elections and candidates with special interest money.”

While the Democratic Party could do more to limit the influence of lobbyists, their platform included proposals to overturn Citizens United, require disclosure from big campaign donations, and supports a public financing system for elections. And on climate change and energy, the Democratic platform at least includes an acknowledgement that climate change is both real and urgent. It includes a price on carbon and other greenhouse gases, significant support for renewable energy, and a mandate that policies must “contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating climate change.”

What’s missing? A national ban on fracking, a carbon tax, and halting fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Environmental leaders and scientists across the globe have made the mandate very clear — most of the world’s fossil fuels have to stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

And what does the Republican party plan to do about climate change and the environment? This direct quote from the platform, which introduces a series of regulatory rollbacks, basically sums it up: “The central fact of any sensible environmental policy is that, year by year, the environment is improving.”

Eight years ago, the Republican platform not only acknowledged climate change was caused by humans, it actually proposed solutions to decrease emissions. During that eight years, the fossil fuel industry spent more than double on presidential elections in 2012 and 2016 compared with 2004 and 2008. Coincidence?

That said, the Democratic party still has a long way to go when it comes to convincing the American people that the party and its leaders are committed to making progress on various fronts.

While Secretary Clinton continues to strengthen her climate plan, there is much progress to be made regarding her connections to the fossil fuel industry. By publicly standing up to Exxon, and rejecting money from its lobbyists, executives, and bundlers, Secretary Clinton can bolster up her credentials in her ability to take on oil companies and break ties with a company who has spent decades deceiving the public on climate change. The passionate people behind Senator Sanders were enormously successful in strengthening Clinton’s positions on everything from fracking to special interests, and they should respectfully keep it up.

No matter what happens in November, it’s crystal clear the issues of money in politics and climate are not going anywhere, so both parties should follow the lead of the people and prioritize them.

Cassady Craighill

By Cassady Craighill

Cassady is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based on the East Coast. She covers climate change and energy, particularly how both issues relate to the Trump administration.

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