Election 2012 Results for Wildlife: New Opportunity for a Political Realignment

from Wildlife Promise

Bald eagle, Homer, Alaska

Photo by Mike Criss.

When the new Congress convenes in January, power will once again be divided between a Republican House and a Democratic President and Senate.  So what does it mean for wildlife? The conservation story of the 2012 election has yet to be written. The answer depends on what happens next, and whether Democrats and Republicans will work together to make progress on the important conservation issues facing America.

Never before has the hill been so steep toward this goal.  This election featured GOP candidates who took a sharp departure from the Republican Party’s strong history of leading fights for stewardship of America’s lands, wildlife, clean air and clean water.

Republican conservationists haven’t disappeared, but they have been marginalized and are not sufficiently represented within the party structure. Outside Washington, conservation values are strong:

  • According to a landmark 2011 study of American public opinions by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 54% of Republicans agree that “this country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”
  • A more recent survey by National Wildlife Federation found that Republican hunters and anglers strongly support public lands and clean water protections, and 53% of GOP sportsmen believe we have a “moral responsibility” to deal with global warming.

Who today is speaking to conservation Republicans who are such a large share of the Republican ranks? And how does the GOP plan to grow in the future? As Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said before the polls closed on election day: “If we lose this election there is only one explanation – demographics.”

I think Sen. Graham has it right.  Look at the continued flight from the GOP of young voters, who rate the environment, climate change and clean energy near the top of their concerns. And as Hispanic voters’ share of the vote continues to grow, it is worth noting that Hispanics are more concerned about the environment than any other demographic. According to a 2012 survey, 92% of Hispanic voters believe we have a responsibility to ‘take care of God’s creations on this earth – the wilderness and forests, the oceans, lakes and rivers.”

It may be hard for politicians in Washington to resist the temptation of the deep pockets of polluting industries.  However, this election demonstrated that money isn’t everything. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $20 million to defeat 7 pro-conservation Senators, but has nothing to show for it as all 7 of those candidates are likely heading to the Senate.  In contrast, the Democratic and Republican candidates endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund, the political wing of NWF, persevered in their competitive races – candidates such as newly elected Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Angus King (I-ME) and returning Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA).  The NWF Action Fund can’t match the financial resources of corporations, but conservation issues resonate with voters.

My hope is that this election delivers a political realignment on the environment that favors bi-partisan cooperation. If, instead, we see a continuation of the environmental attacks from the past two years, then we will rely on our grassroots members, the strengthened firewall in the Senate, President Obama to stop the attacks and find other ways to make progress for our children’s future.