Climate change key to winning many elections

Candidates embracing offshore wind, carbon pricing

CLIMATE CHANGE was not just a key topic in the presidential and congressional contests earlier this month; dozens of down-ballot races across the Commonwealth were decided based on candidates’ stances on the environment. Candidates demonstrated that fighting the climate crisis, promoting clean energy, and pursuing environmental justice are winning campaign issues.

Ten years ago, climate and environment were rarely mentioned by most state-level candidates. In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Cape Wind was a controversial issue—former governor Deval Patrick was its only supporter, while the Independent, Republican, and Green Party candidates all opposed the project. Today, a growing wave of offshore wind projects have broad and bi-partisan support throughout the Commonwealth and the New England region.

According to MassINC polling, climate change has risen to be a top priority among Massachusetts voters over the past decade. In 2011, only 32 percent of people said global warming should be a high priority for state government; in 2019, over half of residents (53 percent) named climate change or global warming a high priority for their state government.

Today, voters expect every candidate in Massachusetts, Democrat and Republican, up and down the ballot to make bold commitments and outline specific solutions to tackle the climate crisis. This election cycle, candidates sought an endorsement from the ELM Action Fund in record numbers, highlighting how their constituents value choosing the environmental candidate. Those who earned our endorsement proudly issued press releases citing their climate credentials, featured our logo on their websites, and designed mailers and campaign videos to show voters their commitment to strong environmental policy.

And it isn’t just Democrats. Victorious Republicans such as Sen Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth and House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading proudly declared their environmental priorities and support of legislation to reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy jobs.

In the fourth Congressional district primary, all 11 candidates who joined the ELM Candidate Forum pledged to support responsibly-developed offshore wind and carbon pricing. At the state Legislature level, 47 out of the 53 candidates endorsed by ELM Action Fund won.  Even candidates that ran on climate platforms and narrowly lost, like Amber Hewett of Newburyport and Christina Eckert of Boxford still significantly changed the dynamics of the race with their ambitious environmental agendas.  They pushed their incumbent opponents to speak out on environmental issues in ways they had not in the past and tout their climate votes from the legislative session on the campaign trail.

We went to work for our endorsed candidates, making over 20,000 calls, sending over 40,000 text messages, and investing in social media posts and mail. We coordinated with the other leading environmental 501(c)4 organizations to create and promote our Green Voter Guide, ensuring voters knew which of their candidates aligned most to their environmental values.

This shift in public sentiment and candidate priorities over the past decade directly correlates to the increased urgency to address the climate impacts across our community. It’s impossible to ignore increased heat, wildfires ravaging the Western US, and flooding in our own communities. Environmental injustices continue to worsen outcomes for those with asthma in communities like Springfield and Chelsea.

Meet the Author

Clare Kelly

Executive director, Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund
The policy solutions are at our fingertips, and in our State House. When the 2021 legislative session begins in January, these lawmakers will have a mandate to tackle the climate crisis on Beacon Hill, turning those bold plans and campaign promises into laws.

Clare Kelly is the executive director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund.