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Climate change could be a deciding factor in 2024 election — ‘in President Biden’s favor,’ U. of Colorado analysis claims

Climate change could be a deciding factor in 2024 election, CU analysis finds


By Matt BurgessUniversity of Colorado

If you ask American voters what their top issues are, most will point to kitchen-table issues like the economy, inflation, crime, health care or education.

Fewer than 5% of respondents in 2023 and 2024 Gallup surveys said that climate change was the most important problem facing the country.

Despite this, research that I conducted with my colleagues suggests that concern about climate change has had a significant effect on voters’ choices in the past two presidential elections. Climate change opinions may even have had a large enough effect to change the 2020 election outcome in President Joe Biden’s favor. This was the conclusion of an analysis of polling data that we published on Jan. 17, through the University of Colorado’s Center for Social and Environmental Futures.

What explains these results, and what effect might climate change have on the 2024 election?

Measuring climate change’s effect on elections

We used 2016 and 2020 survey data from the nonpartisan organization Voter Study Group to analyze the relationships between thousands of voters’ presidential picks in the past two elections with their demographics and their opinions on 22 issues, including climate change.

The survey asked voters to rate climate change’s importance with four options: “unimportant,” “not very important,” “somewhat important” or “very important.”

In 2020, 67% of voters rated climate change as “somewhat important” or “very important,” up from 62% in 2016. Of these voters rating climate change as important, 77% supported Biden in 2020, up from 69% who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. This suggests that climate change opinion has been providing the Democrats with a growing electoral advantage.

So, if most voters — even Democrats — do not rank climate change as their top issue, how could climate change opinion have tipped the 2020 presidential election?

Our analysis could not answer this question directly, but here are three educated guesses:

First, recent presidential elections have been extremely close. This means that climate change opinion would not need to have a very large effect on voting to change election outcomes. In 2020, Biden won Georgia by about 10,000 votes — 0.2% of the votes cast — and he won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, 0.6% of votes cast.

Second, candidates who deny that climate change is real or a problem might turn off some moderate swing voters, even if climate change was not those voters’ top issue. The scientific evidence for climate change being real is so strong that if a candidate were to deny the basic science of climate change, some moderate voters might wonder whether to trust that candidate in general.

Third, some voters may be starting to see the connections between climate change and the kitchen-table issues that they consider to be higher priorities than climate change. For example, there is strong evidence that climate change affects health, national security, the economy and immigration patterns in the U.S. and around the world.