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Saturday, August 27, 2011

President Obama Risks Alienating Key 2012 Constituencies by Approving Big Oil Pipeline

President Obama Risks Alienating Key 2012 Constituencies by Approving Big Oil Pipeline

by Jamie Henn, August 27, 2011

The decision over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline could have a serious effect on President Obama’s ability to turn out the constituencies he needs to win re-election in 2012.

According to Politico, Washington Post, and New York Times, the decision whether or not to grant the permit for a massive new oil pipeline has become the defining environmental question for President Obama in the lead up to the 2012 election.

Polling suggests that if President Obama approves the pipeline, he risks demoralizing the very voters his campaign says are necessary for a return to the White House. Last week, Obama for America announced that a new initiative called Project Vote focused on engaging “key demographic groups, such as African Americans, Women, Youth, Latinos, LGBT, Veterans, Asian Americans and others” would “drive our campaign strategy.” Each of these demographic groups strongly supports clean energy and action on global warming, while opposing handouts to big corporations and oil companies.

Julian E. Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, told the New York Times that the president could not afford to take these activists for granted in 2012. “I think a year ago President Obama felt he could do things that might alienate his base and organizations important to the Democratic Party and get away with it because in the end most Democrats wouldn’t go for a Republican,” Mr. Zelizer said. “Now he might pay a price for it.”

The high profile nature of the pipeline fight and the unified opposition to the proposal from the nation’s environmental groups make it clear that environmental voters in particular will judge the President harshly if he approves the pipeline.

“It will be increasingly difficult to mobilize the environmental base and to mobilize in particular young people to volunteer, to knock on thousands of doors, to put in 16-hour days, to donate money if they don’t think the president is showing the courage to stand up to big polluters,” Mike Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, told reporters last week.

The Polling

Due to the Keystone XL’s high profile, one can assume that approval of the pipeline would dishearten voters who list environment or climate as a top priority. While no one has conducted a formal poll on support for the proposed pipeline, there have been numerous studies about different constituency’s support for action to protect the environment and prevent dangerous climate change.

A 2010 poll of African Americans found that  three out of four respondents said climate change was either very or somewhat important in choosing a U.S. Senator. In 2009, the NAACP came out as an outspoken supporter for the climate bill being debated in Congress.

Women are also more likely to be concerned about the effects of global warming, according to 2010 Michigan State University study. “ A greater percentage of women than men worry about global warming a great deal (35% to 29%), believe global warming will threaten their way of life during their lifetime (37% to 28%), and believe the seriousness of global warming is underestimated in the news (35% to 28%),” the study concluded.

Young people, a demographic that powered President Obama’s ascendancy to power, yet failed to turn out in large numbers in 2010, are especially concerned about climate change.  Asked, for instance, to identify the top priority for U.S. energy policy, fully 65 percent of young people say the highest goal should be protecting the environment, while just 29 percent say the top goal should be to keep energy prices low (source). After polling young voters on behalf of Rock the Vote, Anzalone/Liszt Research put “creating green energy jobs” as the number one priority candidates should focus on to energize the youth vote.

Latino voters are also mobilized around the threat of global warming. A 2010 poll of Latino voters in the key electoral states of Colorado, Florida, and Nevada found that climate change is a key voting issue in all three. The polling found:

  • Overwhelming majorities of Latino voters in Florida (80%), Nevada (67%) and Colorado (58%) say they are more likely to vote for a U.S. Senate candidate that supports proposals for fighting global warming. Virtually no one is less likely.
  • About three out of four Latino voters in Florida (76%) and Nevada (74%), and about two out of three voters in Colorado (64%), consider global warming very or somewhat serious. Three out of four Latino voters in each state say Congress should take action now.
  • By about three to one, Latino voters in these states say switching to a clean energy economy will mean more U.S. jobs (66% in Florida, 72% in Nevada, 64% in Colorado). Over 8 out of 10 voters in each state reject the idea that fighting global warming will hurt the American economy.
“The data is clear,” said National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC) Chair Rafael Fantauzzi. “In these three states, Latinos care about global warming – and they vote.”

There is little specific polling on the climate change attitudes of LGBT or Veterans.

The most extensive polling of Asian American attitudes on climate change and the environment has been done in California, where a number of contentious ballot measures resulted in large scale campaigns to protect clean air and climate regulations. A March 2009 poll found that in California, while 52 percent of whites said they considered themselves “environmentalists,” 83 percent of Asia Pacific Islanders called themselves environmentalists. A November 2010 LA Times/USC poll found that Latinos and Asia Pacific Islanders are more concerned about global warming and air pollution than are whites. Just 27 percent of whites said they “worried” about global warming, but 50 percent of Latino/as and 46 percent of APIs expressed worry. And while 31 percent of whites were concerned about air pollution, 66 percent of Latino/as and 51 percent of APIs were (sources).


Polling suggests that if President Obama chooses to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, he would dishearten the exact constituencies his campaign is hoping to turn out in record numbers during the 2012 election.

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