US Presidential Election: Not Red, Not Blue, but Green to win?
With a recent poll showing that 14% of registered voters see climate change as the most important challenge facing the country, victory in November may well hinge on the success or failure of the respective parties to own this issue. For context, such a figure implies that around 30 million voters could cast their ballots this Autumn with the environment at the forefront of their thinking – that’s two to three times as many as in 2016.
Of those who care about climate change, one-third describe themselves as ‘very progressive’, suggesting that it is the Democrats who have the most to gain from grasping the initiative on the environment.
Voters focus on green policies, but does Biden?
Despite this potential vote-grabber for Biden, the issue features only 25th on a list of policy proposals on the Biden 2020 website. His plan has three main avenues of execution:
- Reinstating Obama-era regulation through executive order
- Investing $1.7 trillion in green energy and jobs through an act of Congress
- Leading international treatymaking efforts on the world stage.
That’s a long way from the $16 trillion investment into the “Green New Deal” that Bernie Sanders was promising. Herein lies the dilemma which will ultimately decide Democratic fortunes this year – how can they appeal to the middle whilst also ensuring that their base turns up to vote? It looks like climate change isn’t a hill for them to die on.
Rebranding climate issues for rust belt voters
The electoral system also explains why the climate features so far down Biden’s list. The rust belt is a crucial cluster of states for both parties when it comes to grabbing electoral college votes, and many of these rely heavily on so-called ‘dirty industries’ for employment and prosperity. Pennsylvania is the main example of this, where Trump secured victory by less than 45,000 votes in 2016. As the third largest coal-exporting state in America, voters in this area may not react well to Biden’s green vision, allowing Trump to take home 20 crucial electoral college votes.
There is however an opportunity to re-brand green credentials as a wider vote winner. The climate issue is ripe for conversion into an anti-China policy, thanks to their role as global polluters in chief. With approval of China down to -40% in the wake of coronavirus, and Trump likely to leverage this sentiment in his own favour, the environment offers the Democrats a line of attack which can be employed without turning off their core base of support.
How will America’s Climate Policy shift after the US Presidential Election?
There are three main scenarios that could play out in the US Presidential Election.
Scenario One: Trump Wins a Second Term
With or without a Republican Congress, Pres Trump would likely continue to use executive orders to cut back the environmental regulations that were instituted by the Obama administration. So far, Trump’s repeals have included the moratorium on federal coal leasing and the extent to which federal agencies must take account of the environmental impact of their actions.
- This would benefit fossil fuel companies
Scenario Two: Biden beats Trump, and the Democrats gain Congress
In this instance, the Democrats would have carte blanche to deliver on all of Biden’s campaign pledges, including the $1.7 trillion of government spending. In the wake of coronavirus, huge government investment will be expected, providing the perfect cover for such a policy. However, with a majority only guaranteed for two years, and other objectives clearly taking priority, it is unclear whether a Pres Biden would deliver the entirety of his environmental agenda, even in the greenest of scenarios.
- This would benefit companies that can boost their green credentials
- It would harm “dirty energy” businesses
Scenario Three: Biden beats Trump, but the Democrats fail to capture the Congress
Here, Biden would have to rely on the power of executive orders and the office of the Presidency to implement parts of his climate proposal. As easily as Trump repealed them, Biden could reinstate Obama’s regulations. Also, he could use America’s status on the world stage to influence treatymaking and catalyse future climate accords. However, the $1.7 trillion investment in green energy and jobs is not possible without congressional approval, leaving the former VP with a half-delivered promise.
- This would be like half a heart transplant: the economic damage of regulation would be incurred, but without investment elsewhere to compensate
Despite any green rhetoric, the truth is that the environment simply isn’t a priority for the Biden campaign, and this is unlikely to change once in office. A New Deal might be in the offing to respond to the huge economic downturn, but it’s unlikely to be a very Green one.