Donald Trump has done everything he can to convince voters that Joe Biden’s remarks about oil were the greatest gaffe in the history of presidential debates. But the polls have told a different story since the debate, even in the states Trump predicted there would be a great uprising.
Here are three reasons why Joe Biden is steadily crushing Trump on energy and climate change at the ballot box.
First, it wasn’t a gaffe. It was the truth, and most Americans agree with Biden.
This is what Biden actually said: “I would transition away from the oil industry, yes. The oil industry pollutes, significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”
According to post-debate polling from Politico, only 19% of registered voters oppose “transitioning the United States from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy.” Even a majority of Republicans support a transition.
Trump is swimming upstream against Americans’ powerful belief in the future of clean energy. In fact, 82% of registered voters believe that “the primary goal of U.S. energy policy should be achieving 100% clean energy,” according to another poll by Yale.
Second, Biden has successfully advanced his vision of economic growth and opportunity by painting a tangible picture for voters focused on clean energy.
Wind and solar power are “the fastest-growing jobs and they pay good prevailing wages, 45–50 bucks an hour,” Biden told voters during the debate.
Trump is chasing an economic message of his own: protecting fracking in Pennsylvania. But it’s likely a dry well politically, with few undecided votes in play. Just 12% of Pennsylvanians believe that natural gas drilling has greatly improved the quality of life in those communities where drilling is taking place, according to a 2020 poll by Franklin & Marshall College.
Moreover, the poll found that only 38% of Pennsylvanians believe the economic benefits of natural gas drilling outweigh the possible environmental damage. When Biden says he wants to clean up fracking, not ban it, he is speaking to them. Hard-working Pennsylvanians in the natural gas industry want their kids to have clean water too.
Third, climate change is a winning political issue for Democrats. 68% of registered voters say climate change will be an important issue in their presidential vote, according to a poll by Pew Research Center.
The political proving ground for climate change came in the 2018 mid-term elections when dozens of Democrats won seats in tight House elections by profiling climate change.
The key to Democrat’s success in 2020 could be the army of climate voters and volunteers that is bigger and broader than ever before.
Climate change is seen as the #1 issue for Democratic voters, according to an NPR poll. Today, climate disasters are up close and personal for Americans in battleground states throughout the nation. Climate-driven volunteers are talking to neighbors, staffing phone banks, and working the polls for Biden and Democrats.
And climate change is driving Americans who sat home in 2016 to turn out and vote this year in numbers that are already setting records. Number-crunching political consultants have determined that climate ads, such as this one featuring Biden speaking about climate change, are the #1 performer across all issues when it comes to mobilizing young voters.
Not surprisingly, Biden is airing a new climate video ad for the final week of the campaign.
Even Trump’s gleeful attacks on the Green New Deal are falling flat. FiveThirtyEight includes a “mini Green New Deal” on its list of “Issues that Divide Republicans,” noting that 45% of Republicans support a Biden-like “$2 trillion plan to increase the use of renewable energy and build energy-efficient infrastructure.”
In addition to ceding the climate vote to Biden, Trump’s hostility toward climate science has created fertile ground for voter distrust over his approach to COVID. After all, his claims that we have rounded the final turn of the pandemic is a mirror image of his claims that climate change is a hoax, downplaying the devastating reality even as wildfires and other climate disasters strike.
To sum up, Biden’s decision to lean in on clean energy is mobilizing a massive army of climate-first voters, shining a spotlight on his plan to create millions of good-paying clean energy jobs, and reminding voters of Trump’s anti-science approach to big threats, including the pandemic.
No wonder that, according to CNN’s post-debate poll, 67% of likely voters who watched the final debate believe that Biden would be better than Trump at handling climate change.
That’s not a gaffe. But it could be the winning strategy.