Plenty's highly unscientific guide to green voters

A tongue-in-cheek breakdown of this election's eco voting demographic

By Ben Whitford

With global warming and gas prices weighing on everyone’s mind, environmental policy has taken center stage in this year’s presidential race. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, two-thirds of Americans now say that the environment is an “extremely” or “very” important issue. In other surveys, voters have ranked environmental policies as more important than hot-button issues like immigration, defense, and taxation. Still, not everyone’s priorities are the same. We channeled the spirit of Mark Penn - the Clinton strategist credited with coining demographic nicknames like “Extreme Commuters” and “Snowed-Under Slobs” - and came up with a thoroughly unscientific guide to the key green demographics in this year’s election cycle.

Cappuccino Conservationists

Who they are: Like latte liberals, but frothier and more environmentally aware, these are rich, highly educated greens based mostly in urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

How they’ll vote: Democratic all the way.

Key issues: Anything that the Sierra Club says is important. Central Park may be the closest they get to nature, but cappuccino conservationists are passionate about everything from fighting climate change to saving beluga whales.

Why they matter: Most live in overwhelmingly blue states, so their votes carry less weight than their campaign donations. Having opted out of public financing, Obama needs these well-off progressives to empty their pocketbooks for him.

What to watch: If Obama can’t convince this crowd that he’s a better bet than John McCain, he’s dead in the water. The real question is whether climate-skeptic Sarah Palin’s presence on the GOP ticket will have angry liberals reaching for their checkbooks.


Backyard Activists

Who they are: Local rabble-rousers, often with ties to the minority-driven environmental justice movement, who are embroiled in whether fumes from the local industrial plant are giving Junior asthma and eschew the wonky intricacies of federal climate policy.

How they’ll vote: Democratic, if they turn out.

Key issues: Anything that helps them stick it to the man: better corporate regulation and protecting the public’s right-to-know are top priorities.

Why they matter: This lot tend to be pretty cynical about both the federal government and mainstream environmentalism; still, they’re an important grassroots network with the potential to register and turn out poor voters who might otherwise stay home. 

What to watch: Keep an eye on feminist activists, who might be willing to overlook McCain’s deregulatory streak now that Palin’s on board. Otherwise, Obama’s green policies and stint as a South Side community organizer ought to help him win over the grassroots. 


Gas-pump Greens

Who they are: Soccer moms and other suburbanites who care about the environment - but more so about the cost of filling their minivans.

How they’ll vote: Up in the air, but leaning Republican.

Key issues: Clean energy and better fuel-efficiency standards sound good in theory, but the top priority is the price at the pump.

Why they matter: Suburbia is a key bloc in any election. As long as gas prices remain high, political strategists will be dedicating plenty of time and energy to wooing this demographic.

What to watch: The GOP has so far managed to frame the energy debate in terms of gas prices and off-shore drilling. If Dems can’t convince this demographic that they’re serious about solving the energy crisis, they can wave goodbye to the White House.


Corn-fed Capitalists

Who they are: Corn Belt farmers and biofuel workers with dirt under their fingernails and a taste for federal subsidies.

How they’ll vote: Leaning Democratic.

Key issues: Farm subsidies, biofuel subsidies, and water rights.

Why they matter: Obama’s support for ethanol subsidies and the Farm Bill earned him criticism from economists, but helped him to open a double-digit lead in corn states like Iowa and Illinois and to bring farm states like Indiana and North Dakota into play.

What to watch: McCain is pulling out all the stops to convince rural voters that they need social conservatism more than subsidized corn ethanol; that probably won’t win him Iowa, but should help him hold onto traditionally red farm-states. 


Lunchpail Pragmatists

Who they are: Hardbitten, hardscrabble, and hard-hit: these are no-nonsense blue-collar workers from economically distressed battleground states like Michigan and Ohio (think Michael Moore’s Roger and Me).

How they’ll vote: It’s a toss-up.

Key issues: With outsourcing and unemployment through the roof, these Reagan Democrats don’t care about polar bears - but they’re desperate for green-collar jobs and lower gas and utility bills.

Why they matter: The lunchpail crowd ordinarily back Democrats, but Obama has struggled to win them over so far.

What to watch: The candidates’ handling of the economy is all-important here: So far, Dems have the upper hand on innovation and green-collar job creation, while the GOP’s drill-everywhere populism has helped McCain score points on energy prices.


Bait-and-bullet Bipartisans

Who they are: Rural independents with a fishing or hunting license and a love for the great outdoors.

How they’ll vote: Leaning Republican.

Key issues: Gun ownership, park maintenance, pollution.

Why they matter: About a tenth of Americans go hunting each year, so they make up a powerful voting bloc. Once a safe Republican constituency, they’re now considered swing voters and could help carry key battleground states like Colorado or Ohio.

What to watch: Having picked Sarah Palin - whom leftists are calling “Caribou Barbie” - as his running mate, McCain should have moose-hunters in the bag. Now he needs his gun-toting number two to win over the huntin’, fishin’ set in the lower 48.

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