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WESTERN STATES Poll: Voters prioritize environment

Shared from the 2/20/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post

Eighty percent of voters in Colorado and seven other Western states prioritize air, land, water and wildlife issues as key factors in electing leaders, including more than four in 10 who say the environment is very important or their primary factor compared with health care and the economy, a new public opinion poll has found.

And global warming increasingly preoccupies voters across the Rocky Mountain region, according to the results of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project’s annual Conservation in the West poll.

While 5% of voters in the five states surveyed in 2011 identified climate change as their most important environmental problem, the poll results — to be unveiled Thursday — show that 35% in the expanded poll of eight states this year volunteered climate change as their top concern.

A 59% majority of voters said climate change requires action, up from 48% a decade ago, the results show. And 69% agreed with the observation that Western water supplies are becoming more unpredictable every year — a change linked to warming temperatures.

Three-quarters of the voters surveyed said they want their officials in Congress and their governor to have a plan for reducing the carbon air pollution that contributes to climate change (54% among Republicans, 77% among independents and 95% among Democrats).

“We have definitely seen a shift when it comes to views on climate change,” said pollster Lori Weigel, who has helped conduct the survey for a decade. “It reflects a really different reality today in what people are thinking about and talking about. There is a growing majority saying actions need to be taken.”

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project commissions the poll, which this year surveyed a random sample of 3,200 voters who were interviewed using English and Spanish between Jan. 11 and 19 in eight states across the Rocky Mountain region — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — with 400 polled in each state. The margin of error was 2.65% overall and 4.9% for individual states.

This marks the 10th anniversary of the poll, which explores environmental issues and challenges. It was conducted by Weigel’s firm New Bridge Strategies, rooted in Republican politics, and Dave Metz of FM3 Research, which works mostly with Democrats.

The voters surveyed reflect the region’s increasingly diverse population, with 39% identifying themselves as conservative, 23% as liberal and the rest as “moderate.” Poll data shows 48% were male and 52% female. And 41% said they were hunters or anglers, with 62% residing in urban areas and 38% in rural areas or small towns.

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies poll stands out as the main regional-scale survey probing environmental views, and these findings jibe with results of national polls on many issues.

“In politics, voters have wants and they have needs. Smart politicians speak to the things voters consider needs. In the West, having a healthy environment isn’t a want. It is a need — essential. It requires more than just a passing mention from people who are running for office. It requires a sincere and sustained focus,” Metz said. “Voters in the West are going to be paying a lot of attention and really scrutinizing candidates this year to see if there is somebody who is really serious about protecting land, air, water and wildlife.”

Compared with other issues such as the economy and health care, 44% of voters told the pollsters that they consider water, air, wildlife and land issues to be very important or their primary concern when deciding whether to support an elected official. That’s up from 31% in 2016. In Colorado, the poll found 47% of voters treat the environment as very important or their primary basis for picking a candidate.

The poll results show that another 36% of voters rated environmental issues as important, ranking among several factors they weigh in deciding whether to support an elected official.

State of the Rockies leaders have compiled results from 10 years of polling and created an interactive database to aid researchers in making comparisons. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall are among the leaders expected to speak at a symposium at Colorado College on Thursday addressing the future of the West.




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