By Josh Siegel
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee launched a 2020 run for president Friday making a bet untested in American politics: that a single-issue platform of fighting climate change can win.
He kicked off his campaign with a launch video in which he warned, in emotional terms, that the effects of the climate “crisis” are “being felt everywhere,” as video footage flashed of blazing wildfires and waste-deep floods. He also promised “millions of good paying jobs” in a clean energy economy.
But while polls show Americans of both parties acknowledge climate change and increasingly worry that it is driving extreme weather events, political and polling experts say most voters aren’t ready to cast their vote based on climate change politics.
“He has picked one of most difficult public policies issues to focus on,” said Travis N. Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University who studies political ads and has closely watched Inslee’s career. “It’s a really, really tough thing to handle. It’s really hard to get Americans excited about climate change.”
Climate change ranked behind the economy, healthcare, terrorism, and immigration as an issue people consider to be “extremely important,” according to a January poll of 1,202 adults conducted by the Associated Press and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
Even just among Democrats, climate change is not necessarily a dominant issue. Democrat voters prioritize it after healthcare, women’s rights, guns, and inequality, according to Gallup polling.
“What that tells you is people are seeing what goes around them with climate change, and it has an affect on them,” said Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, who helped conduct the AP-University of Chicago survey. “But it’s a mistake to extrapolate that to say climate change is an important issue to people. It’s not the same thing.”
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