Conservative Media Wrongly Pin Democrats' Election Losses On Climate Change Focus

In the aftermath of the election, conservative media figures have alleged that Democratic candidates’ emphasis on climate change was a reason they lost, claiming this focus alienated or drove away voters. But numerous polls conducted in the run-up to the election indicated that a majority of Americans consider climate change an important issue and favor government action to address it, and an exit poll similarly revealed that most voters in Florida view climate change as a serious problem. While these polls indicate that a focus on climate change didn’t harm environmentally friendly Democratic candidates, a plausible explanation for why the issue may not have helped them is the lack of attention it received from the media, including during debates.

Conservative Media Attribute Democrats’ Election Losses To Focus On Climate Change

WSJ’s Holman Jenkins: Climate Advocacy Represents “Exactly The Kind Of Elite Cronyism Voters Are Sick Of.” In a column headlined “Green Elites, Trumped,” Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins, Jr. asserted, “Wealthy investors like George Soros, Nat Simons and [Tom] Steyer, who finance the party’s green agenda, have ridden the [Democrats] into the ground.” Jenkins added that climate advocacy turns off voters, writing: “The theory and practice of climate advocacy, on one hand, has been thoroughly, irretrievably corrupted by self righteousness—blame Al Gore, that was his modus. Yet, on the other, it has allowed itself to become the agent of economic interests that can’t survive without pillaging middle-class taxpayers and energy users—exactly the kind of elitist cronyism that voters are sick of.” [The Wall Street Journal, 11/16/16]

Citing Climate Change, Fox’s Maria Bartiromo Claimed Trump Won Because Democrats Are “Not Focused On The Issues That The American People Want Them To Focus On.” On the November 21 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson aired a clip of Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) stating that the Democrats “lacked an economic message for the working class people in Ohio, in Michigan, in Wisconsin,” which Carlson said “seems a lot smarter to me than, ‘We didn't hit climate change hard enough.’” Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo replied that Carlson was “absolutely right,” and added: “The fact is you keep hearing conversations about climate change, about transgender bathrooms, about police brutality. They’re not focused on the issues that the American people want them to focus on, and that’s why Donald Trump won the election.”  

Bartiromo made a similar claim the following day on her Fox Business show Mornings with Maria. During a discussion with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Bartiromo said that Democrats were “ignoring what American people want” and expressed disbelief that Democrats were “still talking about climate change” after the election.

National Review Op-Ed: Democrats’ “Focus On Climate Change Over Growth” Helped Drive Voters Away. Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote an op-ed in National Review citing Democrats’ “focus on climate change over growth” as evidence that “national Democrats no longer treat [voters] with respect” and are “determined to drive [white non-college-educated] voters away.” [National Review, 11/21/16]

Investor’s Business Daily Op-Ed Falsely Claimed Environmental Policies Created “Green Energy Poverty” That Pushed Union Members To Vote For Trump. Craig Richardson, the executive director of the fossil fuel industry-funded Energy & Environment Legal Institute, wrote an Investor’s Business Daily op-ed falsely alleging that environmental policies “destroyed [union] jobs and caused green energy poverty by causing utility rates to skyrocket,” which resulted in “rank-and-file union voters push[ing] Trump over the top in the critical states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.” [Investor’s Business Daily, 11/14/16; Media Matters, 7/31/15, 11/18/15, 4/22/16]

On Fox Business, American Conservative Union Chairman Claimed Obama Climate Policies Help Explain Why Trump “Did So Well” In Wisconsin And Michigan. During a discussion of Donald Trump’s economic agenda on the November 10 edition of Fox Business’ Intelligence Report with Trish Regan, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp falsely claimed that the Obama administration’s climate change policies were responsible for “shedding more jobs, [and] making energy more expensive,” which he claimed was “one of the reason that Donald Trump did so well in states like Wisconsin and in Michigan.” [Media Matters, 9/25/15; 8/4/15]

But Polls Show Majority Of Americans Are Concerned About Climate Change And Are More Likely To Support Candidates Who Want To Address It

Florida Exit Poll: Two-Thirds Of Florida Voters Say Climate Change Is a Serious Problem. NBC News reported: “According to early results from the NBC News Exit Poll, two-thirds of Florida voters consider climate change or global warming to be a severe problem. Only three in 10 voters in the state think climate change is not posing serious challenges.” [, 11/8/16]

University Of Texas Poll: 64 Percent Of Respondents Would Be More Likely To Vote For A Presidential Candidate Who Supports Reducing Carbon Pollution. A University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll conducted in September found that 64 percent of respondents were more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who “[s]upports taking steps to reduce carbon emissions,” compared to only 7 percent of respondents who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. [, September 2016]

Yale University Survey: Americans Are Far More Likely To Vote For Candidate Who Supports Climate Action Than One Who Opposes It. A survey of registered voters conducted in March by the Yale Program on Climate Communication found the following: “Supporters of all Democratic and Republican candidates—except [Sen. Ted] Cruz—are more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming. Conversely, supporters of all Democratic and Republican candidates—except Cruz—are less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly opposes taking action to reduce global warming” (emphasis original). Additionally, as Joe Romm of ThinkProgress noted, the Yale survey also found that “the number of Americans who are ‘more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming,’ exceeds the number who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate by a factor of 3-to-1 (43 percent to 14 percent).” [Yale Program on Climate Communication, Spring 2016; ThinkProgress, 10/25/16]

Quinnipiac University Poll: “President Should Combat Climate Change, Voters Say 3-1.” A Quinnipiac University National poll released in December 2015 found that “[a] total of 66 percent of American voters are ‘very concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ about climate change” and that “[v]oters say 69 - 23 percent that they would like to see the next president support policies to combat climate change.” [Quinnipiac University, 12/23/15]

March Gallup Poll: U.S. Concern About Global Warming At Eight-Year High. A Gallup poll taken in March 2016 found the following:

Americans are taking global warming more seriously than at any time in the past eight years, according to several measures in Gallup's annual environment poll. Most emblematic is the rise in their stated concern about the issue. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, up from 55% at this time last year and the highest reading since 2008. [, 3/16/16]

Pew Research Center: Most Americans Are Concerned About Climate Change, Believe Policy Actions Can Make A Difference. A Pew Research Center survey of registered voters conducted between May and September of this year found that a majority of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about climate change, and a majority of Americans believe that a range of policy actions -- including the Clean Power Plan, the Paris agreement, and tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars -- can make a difference in combating climate change. [Pew Research Center, 10/4/16]

Media Largely Ignored Climate Change During Election Cycle, Including In Debates

Network Evening Newscasts Almost Completely Ignored Policy Coverage In 2016 Campaign, Including Climate Change. Major broadcast networks largely ignored policy coverage during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Tyndall Report, which for decades has tracked the broadcast networks’ nightly news programs. Two weeks before the election, the Tyndall Report found that “issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent,” adding: “No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits. To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates' terms, not on the networks' initiative.” Additionally, a study released in September from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy determined that during the time of both parties’ conventions this summer, only eight percent of news coverage centered on policy and issues. [Media Matters, 10/26/16; Tyndall Report, 10/25/16;, 9/21/16]

Climate Change Was Absent From Presidential Debates And Most Debates In Key Senate And Governors’ Races. A Media Matters analysis found that none of the three presidential debates nor the vice presidential debate included questions about climate change, and just 12 of the 51 debates held in tightly contested Senate and governors’ races included questions about climate change (24 percent). [Media Matters, 9/29/16, 11/7/16]

Yale Survey: Most Americans Say They Rarely Hear About Climate Change In The Media. A March survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that, although a majority of Americans consider climate change “personally important,” fewer than half of Americans say they hear about climate change in the media at least once a month. [Yale Program on Climate Communication, March 2016]