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Environmental Issues Help Swing Tight Races: New Research on Three 2018 Examples

Dec 4, 2018

Pete Maysmith, LCV Victory Fund Senior Vice President for Campaigns

In the 2018 midterms, environmental champions triumphed in some of the nation’s most closely watched elections. For LCV Victory Fund, talking about the specific and localized environmental impacts that people are actually experiencing proved to be the most effective messaging, be it the importance of access to public lands in Montana, the impact of fires fueled by climate change in California, or focusing on the health impacts of pollution in New Jersey.

Newly released research from three key battlegrounds shows how these localized, impact-focused environmental messages from LCV Victory Fund and our allies resonated with voters across regions and was critical to the victories of pro-environment candidates.

MONTANA SENATE: Global Strategy Group memo, poll results

CALIFORNIA 48: Global Strategy Group memo, poll results

NEW JERSEY 03: Global Strategy Group memo, poll results

The Montana Senate race, California’s 48th congressional district, and New Jersey’s 3rd district were all decided by single digits — and in all three races, distinct environmental messages helped bring our candidates over the top. The takeaway: localized environmental issues move voters, and those running in 2020 can learn from these results.

In the Montana Senate race, LCV Victory Fund and allied groups ran ads focused on Matt Rosendale’s background as an East Coast developer and his ties to Texas oil billionaires notorious for blocking access to public lands, a crucial part of the state’s way of life. Our post-election survey data shows that 93 percent of Montana voters recall this message, and 82 percent of Jon Tester supporters rated it as a convincing reason to vote against Rosendale.

Our field program also helped get Tester across the finish line, signing up over 19,000 people to vote by mail. Tester ultimately won by 15,317 votes.

In New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district, LCV Victory Fund and EDF Action did early polling to find the best message to take on an incumbent with solid personal standing. Based on those results, we ran ads tying the health impacts of Tom MacArthur’s anti-environment votes — which lead to more pollution — to his attempts to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions. In our post-election survey, a majority of moderates and swing voters ranked this argument as a convincing reason to vote against MacArthur, who was ultimately defeated by Andy Kim.

In California’s 48th congressional district, voters cited Dana Rohrabacher’s climate denial as one of the biggest reasons for voting against him. In partnership with Independence USA PAC, LCV Victory Fund ran a powerful ad highlighting Rohrabacher’s climate denial and opposition to efforts to fight climate change in his own words, while showing images of the climate-fueled wildfires devastating California communities.

More than two thirds CA-48 of voters — including 71 percent of swing voters — recall having seen the climate ad. Holding Rohrabacher accountable on climate issues strengthened Harley Rouda’s lead, giving him an 11 point advantage above the baseline partisan split.  Additionally, a majority of ideological moderates and nonpartisan voters rated this message as one of the most convincing arguments against Rohrabacher, who lost his seat.

These voters prioritized conservation issues in 2018, and now they expect newly elected and returning policymakers to take bold action to protect our air, water, and lands. Environmental issues were rated above or on par with other important issues like health care, the economy and jobs, and education as important priorities for their public officials to address.

In all three of the regionally distinct races, voters rated protecting drinking water as their number one issue. More than two-thirds of Montana voters listed safeguarding public lands as an issue of extreme importance, which is consistent with the effectiveness of public lands and conservation messaging throughout the west in 2018. In CA-48 and NJ-03, voters listed protecting clean air as a top priority and a majority said that their elected officials should focus on expanding the use of clean energy, preventing dangerous offshore drilling, and taking action to address climate change.

As more and more voters across the country experience the dangerous effects of climate change, localized messaging tying these impacts to the actions of their representatives in Washington will be an essential element in electing a pro-environment Senate and ensuring that we deny a second term to climate denier in chief Donald Trump.

2018 may be a wrap, but we’re just getting started.



Paid for by LCV Victory Fund,, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.