New poll shows influence of “Outdoor Voting Bloc” in Mountain West swing states

Analysis reveals current administration actions on public lands, energy, and climate are unpopular among persuadable Western voters

Western Priorities
Westwise

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Winning the West website | poll | presentation

A new Winning the West 2020 poll by the Center for Western Priorities shows an “Outdoor Voting Bloc” in the Rocky Mountain West has cemented itself as an influential factor in election outcomes. The Winning the West poll and accompanying presentation — conducted for the third consecutive election cycle in Colorado, Montana, and Nevada, and for the second time in Arizona and New Mexico — reveal how issues involving public lands, parks, and wildlife play an outsized role in moving Western voters to the polls and influence how voters choose candidates.

Overwhelming majorities of voters in the Mountain West are committed outdoor enthusiasts. 93 percent agree the mountains and outdoors are what makes living in their state special. They not only use public lands but care about how they are protected, with 51 percent of Western voters labeling themselves as “conservationists” and 61 percent who believe the U.S. needs to protect new deserving public lands. When it comes to voting priorities, 78 percent of voters in the West consider issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife to be important when deciding whether to support a candidate for public office, outpacing climate change as a top concern.

“We continue to see the rise of public lands and the outdoors as an important issue in competitive races in the Mountain West,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. “Westerners care deeply about our public lands and we vote on them. Against the backdrop of the current administration’s unpopular agenda on public lands, it will be worth watching to see if more candidates highlight an agenda of protecting the West’s outdoor way of life in their strategies to win.”

The current administration’s actions on public lands are unpopular

The poll found recent administration proposals on public lands are unpopular in every state surveyed. Overall, the administration’s approval rating among Western voters on public lands issues sits at 32 percent. The views on the administration’s public lands agenda were consistent across all five states surveyed and reflected in the responses of independent voters.

Western voters oppose numerous administration policy proposals:

  • Opening up new public lands to oil and gas development (55 percent)
  • Rolling back environmental and safety regulations on oil and gas development (59 percent)
  • Curbing regulations designed to reduce natural gas leaks from public lands development (59 percent)
  • Reducing the size of national monuments, specifically significantly shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments (69 percent, including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents)

Western voters support a proactive agenda to expand and protect public lands

Asked about a series of proposals on public lands, strong majorities supported ideas like:

  • Reinvesting oil, gas, mining, and renewable energy royalties collected from public lands back into the public lands themselves (80 percent)
  • Increasing spending on public lands to ensure necessary access and maintenance (81 percent)
  • Investing in forest management to protect public lands, restore Western forests, and protect communities from wildfire (86 percent)
  • Increase funding to build new public trails, campgrounds, and access points on public lands (70 percent)
  • Providing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to ensure people have access to recreation on public lands, and that public land is purchased and protected for the benefit of the public (78 percent)

Balance and conservation win over energy dominance in the West

On energy issues, voters reject the prioritization of energy development over other public lands uses. 50 percent say the U.S. should stop issuing new oil and gas leases on public lands until the lands currently being leased, but without a well in use, are developed, against 15 percent who support issuing leases at the same levels. Similarly, 58 percent of voters say protecting our outdoor spaces should be given priority even at the risk of closing some land to future development, compared to 10 percent who take the opposite view.

Most voters seek balance on energy development. 53 percent say oil and gas production should be allowed with strict limitations and regulations to ensure that land, wildlife, water, and public safety are protected first and foremost. More extreme positions were far less popular. 18 percent say oil and gas should be kept in the ground on public lands and companies should be prohibited from drilling on public lands. 11 percent say oil and gas development should be expanded on public lands to help the U.S. become energy independent as soon as possible.

Voters favored a variety of proposals to limit the impacts of energy development on public lands, such as:

  • Support requiring mining companies to pay taxpayers a royalty for extracting minerals on public lands (78 percent)
  • Support increasing the royalties for oil, gas, and coal extraction on public lands (74 percent)
  • Want to require oil and gas companies to detect and repair gas leaks in drilling equipment (88 percent)
  • Support increasing the investment in the development of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal (78 percent)
  • Oppose reducing environmental regulations on oil and gas companies in order to help boost energy production (55 percent)

Survey responses offered candidates guidance on messaging around public lands issues. When presented with two options, voters preferred to “limit” rather than “prohibit” oil and gas extraction on public lands by a margin of 67 percent to 48 percent. The poll also found voters in the West are moved by messages about respecting and protecting public lands, not by messages around deregulation and increased energy development.

The Winning the West poll was conducted in August and September by Gottlieb Strategic Research. It included 2,800 online surveys of likely voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico. The margin of error is +/- 2 percent for all voters and +/- 4.4 percent per state.

For more information, visit westernpriorities.org. Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox, or subscribe to Go West, Young Podcast.

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Western Priorities
Westwise

The Center for Western Priorities promotes responsible policies and practices to protect the West