A force of nature: New ads highlight growing outdoor voting bloc

Center for Western Priorities identifies 2 million Westerners who vote for public lands

Tyler McIntosh
Westwise

--

This week, we released two new video ads highlighting the Mountain West’s growing outdoor voting bloc — estimated to be 2 million voters strong.

Mailboxes” personifies the West’s outdoor voting bloc, featuring outdoor enthusiasts who live and breathe the issues they care about. In it we see a whitewater kayaker, trail runner, and a mountain climber in action, each of them carrying a ballot in hand. Along their treks, each individual drops their ballot into a mailbox, symbolizing the unique role outdoor issues play in the choices Western voters make. To voters in the Mountain West, protecting open spaces is deeply personal — because the outdoors define ways of life in the region.

In an ever-dividing political climate,“Voting Booth” shows the ways in which public lands unite voters in the West. The ad shows nine individuals, diverse in race and age, hiking separately through a lush open space. As a narrator speaks about the two million outdoor voters who “stand together to protect our lands,” we see their separate paths coverage as they assemble around a voting booth, united in their support for the outdoors and public lands issues.

The ads are part of our Winning the West project, which over the past several election cycles has documented how public land conservation is a winning campaign issue, due to a growing number of bipartisan Westerners who vote to keep the West’s public lands, protected and accessible. Research from our recent Winning the West 2020 poll shows in the midst of a global pandemic, Mountain West voters’ connection to the outdoors has never been deeper and support for public lands conservation is growing.

81 percent of Western voters say national public lands, parks, and wildlife issues are important to them in deciding which candidate to vote for in Presidential and Congressional elections. The importance of public lands, parks and wildlife issues increased during the COVID-19 pandemic for 34 percent of voters, while remaining durable for the rest.

In hypothetical candidate match-ups, 55 percent of voters selected a candidate who believes the outdoors are what defines the West, wants to prioritize protecting public lands, and argues for managing oil and gas development on public lands with safeguards. That is compared to 17 percent of voters who say they prefer a candidate who says the federal government has overreached on public lands and supports prioritizing local control and deregulating oil and gas extraction to increase domestic energy production and create good paying jobs in the West.

Alignment in the West behind pro-conservation positions translates into bipartisan support for policies that protect and fund public lands.The 30x30 plan to protect 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030 receives support from 75 percent of Western voters. 64 percent support the goal of making public lands a net zero source of carbon pollution so the positive impacts of forests and land in creating clean air can outweigh the carbon pollution caused by oil, gas and coal extraction.

In an increasingly divided political environment, it is particularly noteworthy that two new pro-conversation laws are among the few pieces of non-COVID-19-related legislation to be passed by large bipartisan margins and signed into law recently. The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and protects public lands, national parks and wildlife throughout the country. The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds LWCF and invests billions to support America’s outdoor recreation economy.

Candidates in some of the most competitive elections in the Mountain West are starting to take notice and are appealing to the growing outdoor voting bloc. We are already seeing political advertisements and campaign statements from both Democrats and Republicans focusing directly on public lands issues and proposals.

As we near November’s historic elections, it is worth keeping an eye on outdoor voters. Public lands and the lifestyles they support are bringing people together in a time of isolation, distance, and political tension — and we can expect Westerners to bring their passion for the outdoors to the polls.

--

--

Tyler McIntosh
Westwise

Conservation Policy & Research Manager | Center for Western Priorities | Denver, CO