Focus on the People, Not the Polls

For context, nuance, and understanding, interview voters about climate change

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Every Monday, in Climate on the Ballot, we pass along a topic to help you integrate climate into your newsroom’s campaign reporting. Consider sharing this newsletter with your colleagues on the politics beat. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Know Your Voters

Pretty much every week, a new poll emerges summarizing what voters are saying about candidates and the issues this election year. For reporters, polls offer easy newshooks for newsy snapshots of the election. But these pieces are often shallow, sometimes misleading, and they don’t shed light on why voters feel the way they do.

The shortcomings of polling are particularly acute when it comes to climate change. Seventy-two percent of Americans say they know climate change is happening, right now, and more than half think global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress, according to the most authoritative polling on climate change, from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Yet, most national political polls largely ignore climate, giving the faulty impression that voters aren’t interested.

For journalists, there’s an easy fix: Go out and report — talk to likely voters, potential voters, and voters planning to sit out this election about their views on climate change and the government’s role in stopping it.

Reporting Ideas

  • Interview actual voters in your state. Yale’s new Climate Opinion Map tool generates hyperlocal factsheets that local journalists can use to drill into “Americans’ beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences about climate change for all 50 states, 435 congressional districts, and 3,142 counties across the US.” This provides a roadmap for journalists interviewing voters about how climate ranks for them this November.
  • Make the local climate connection. We’ve just lived through the hottest year on record and climate scientists are warning that this summer could be even hotter, fueling dangerous heat waves, poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, and destructive storms. This searchable tool identifies the biggest climate risks in communities across the country. When covering extreme weather, ask sources how climate change factors into their voting decisions this year, and save that material for a later report.
  • Focus on solutions. Ask voters what they know about viable climate solutions for their regions and report on the knowledge gaps — 80% of Americans say they want to know more about solutions. Identify the top emitting sectors and solutions are in your state and compare them with candidates’ policies. (Need support covering solutions? Check out CCNow and Solution Journalism Network’s reporting guide.)
  • Climate action isn’t as polarizing as you might think. The majority of Americans — across all party affiliations — want the president, Congress, and their governors and local representatives to do more to combat climate change. Interestingly, most Americans believe that, more than the government, corporations (69%) and citizens (61%) are responsible for addressing global warming. Use the Climate Opinion Map tool to find out what constituents in your area want done, and then go out and ask them how they think it can be achieved.

Take Inspiration

  • Politico Pro highlights “31 top energy and environment House races” to watch in 2024.
  • KQED explores the “ethical dilemma” that voters who are both concerned about climate change and against the war in Gaza say they’re facing. In California’s District 13, if that group decides not to vote, it could be “one of the closest House races in the country.”
  • Ahead of the New Hampshire primary, The New York Times produced a video piece featuring a charter boat fishman and lifelong conservative who wishes the Republican Party would do more to address climate change because of the impacts he’s seen on the water over the last 10 to 15 years.
  • A recent CBS News poll found that “on the issue of climate, President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump are statistically tied among voters younger than 30,” reports the Los Angeles Times, which interviewed young voters who are worried about climate change — but also worried about the economy, jobs, and inflation.

Spotlight Piece

In a blockbuster piece, The Washington Post reported last week that Trump asked oil execs to give his campaign $1 billion in return for reversing Biden’s climate laws and regulations should Trump be reelected. Print publications picked up the news, but Media Matters found that “national TV news, with the exception of MSNBC, failed to cover it” at all.