By Brian Gottlieb
“The beautiful mountains.”
“Access to the outdoors.”
“The opportunities to go out onto the public land.”
Those are just a few of the answers we heard when we asked over 1,000 likely Colorado voters what they like about living in their state. If you’re familiar with Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West and its people, the answers to this question won’t surprise you. Coloradans love the outdoors. They love the mountains and the recreation opportunities being near open spaces and public lands provide.
With each election cycle we’ve seen the growing influence of the Rocky Mountain West in national elections. This year, the road to the White House runs through the Mountain West where public lands, mountains, deserts, wildlife, energy development and outdoor recreation are central features of life and local identity.
Working with the Center for Western Priorities, Purple Strategies surveyed likely 2016 voters in Colorado, Nevada and Montana as part of the Winning the West campaign. Regardless of political party, voters in these states and across the West care deeply about access to the outdoors and public lands. Western state voters believe public lands are essential to their quality of life and are pivotal to their state’s economy.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in consumer spending each year, supporting millions of jobs. With the growing importance of the outdoor recreation economy, particularly in the West, voters are more likely to support a candidate who will help create outdoor jobs. Additionally, protecting access to the outdoors, increasing protection of public lands and increasing protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat are important to voters and they are more likely to support a candidate who supports such proposals.
Despite the efforts of a few politicians leading the land seizure movement — an effort in some states to dispose of public lands into state and private hands — we found that voters do not support selling public lands, opening public lands to more private development or opening more wilderness areas to motorized vehicle use. Voters favor balance and pragmatism and reject the anti-public lands agenda of the Bundy family and the armed militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon earlier this year.
Voters in these three states support the development of renewable energy like solar and wind projects on public lands. And while they support continued oil and gas development, they want to see additional environmental protections put in place and they would like to see renewable energy sources prioritized over traditional energy over the next ten years.
As the iconic Western writer Wallace Stegner said, “One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins.” Stegner’s sentiments still ring true today. When it comes to public lands, voters in the West value collaboration over confrontation and a candidate seeking support in this region would be wise to embrace a common sense view that balances conservation, economic use, and public enjoyment of our lands.
Brian Gottlieb is the Managing Director at Purple Strategies.