The 2020 election is both very different and very familiar when it comes to the politics of global warming and the stakes of the outcome.
What's new: Democratic voters are more concerned than in prior presidential cycles, polling shows.
- “It became one of the top priorities for the base of one of our two parties,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, a Yale analyst of public views on climate. “For the first time, there was a real climate vote in the primaries.”
- In addition, the devastating West Coast wildfires are putting fresh focus on global warming's contribution to extreme weather as the race enters the homestretch.
Why it matters: The policy gap has never been wider.
- Joe Biden's platform is more aggressive than Hillary Clinton's four years ago, and goes far beyond anything floated or implemented under former President Obama.
- President Trump rejects consensus climate science and is unwinding Obama-era policies.
Yes, but: Here's the familiar part. Polling shows an extremely durable partisan divide.
- For instance, Pew Research Center polling this year showed that 78% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said climate should be a top government priority, up from 46% in 2015.
- "In contrast, only 21% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said this year that climate change should be a top priority — a virtually identical share as in 2015 (19%)," they note.
The intrigue: Contrary to conventional wisdom that candidates run toward the center in the general election, Biden's platform has moved closer to what left activists want since he won the nomination.
- This indicates that one of Biden's key priorities is motivating his base voters, not just appealing to a vanishing pool of undecideds, Leiserowitz said.
- “He knows how important it is to mobilize and motivate young voters, Latino voters, suburban women voters — all of whom have identified climate change as one of their top priorities," he said.
- Still, Biden's plan doesn't attack fossil fuels as much as some activists have called for. He recently emphasized in Pennsylvania, a big gas producing state, that he's not proposing a fracking ban.
What we're watching: Whether the fires and other extreme weather prompt lots of questions about climate in the upcoming debates. If so, it would be a break from past cycles.
The bottom line: Climate change is never close to the biggest political focus in presidential campaigns, and that's still true. But its profile is rising as the stakes get higher.