Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to devote presidential campaign to climate change was a gamble testing whether Democrats should stake their campaigns on the single issue.
Inslee struggled to stand out in the 2020 field and didn’t reach the Democratic National Committee’s polling threshold to qualify for the September debates. He stayed on message throughout his campaign, even as his opponents were discussing issues like health care and criminal justice reform, but it wasn’t enough.
He was ultimately unable to meet enough qualifying polls that would have propelled him to the third and fourth debates in September. Analysts are now arguing that Inslee’s climate-focused campaign was a subtle warning to the Democratic field. (RELATED: Jay Inslee, The ‘Climate Candidate,’ Announces 2020 Presidential Bid)
“Inslee, who could never improve on ~1% in the polls despite an intense focus on climate change, is a datapoint against the proposition that Democrats’ votes are deeply motivated by policy concerns,” pollster Nate Silver said in a tweet Wednesday. Inslee’s performance is a “bearish indicator” about the wisdom of making global warming the only issue, he added.
DNC officials voted 17-8 Thursday in San Francisco against a resolution to make climate change the top issue during the debate format, one day after Inslee bailed. The decision came after party Chairman Tom Perez said in June that the party will not hold a debate on global warming.
Perez said that month that climate change is just one of several high-priority issues, and it would be unfair to host a debate revolving around it. Other officials agreed. Symone Sanders, Biden’s senior adviser, urged the DNC to vote down the debate, saying it would be “dangerous territory in the middle of a Democratic primary process.”
Recent polls suggest Americans do consider climate change a concern, but one of many in a long line of worries. In fact, 50% of Americans believe made-up news is a “very big problem,” whereas only 46% of people said the same about climate change, while roughly 40% consider racism to be equally as bad, a Pew Research poll in June noted.
Other polls show similar results. A 2017 Reuters poll, for instance, found that 72% of people agree “that given the amount of greenhouse gases that it produces, the United States should take aggressive action to slow global warming.” The poll concluded that Americans rank the environment near the bottom of their list of priorities.
Only 4% of people believe the environment is a bigger issue than the economy, terrorism, immigration and other more pertinent issues, according to the poll. Nevertheless, nine of the most prominent 2020 Democratic candidates are diving headlong into the issue as they prepare to gather soon to discuss climate change at a CNN climate town hall forum.
CNN announced plans in July to host the event, which will take place in September. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are among those who will take part in the 24-hour news channel’s Sept. 4 town hall.
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