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Politics of Clean Energy, Part 3: Leaders on Clean Energy Lead in Their Races

But it’s not.  The overwhelming majority of Democrats who voted for the House clean energy bill are doing just fine.  It’s the ones who voted against it who are in more trouble. 

We can test this proposition by starting with a recent news analysis in the Wall Street Journal, which offers a version of this misleading narrative.  The paper looked at 12 close House races with Democratic incumbents and showed their pattern of voting for or against Obama on four key issues including clean energy.  The results showed an amazing symmetry:  Democrats that voted with Obama were doing poorly and those who voted against him were doing better.  The implication provides an obvious story-line for election night, with a built-in warning about the future for any surviving Democrats.  A few days later Kimberly Strassel repeated this narrative in “Cap-and-Trade Crackup” in the Wall Street Journal.

Yet facts in political matters seldom fall so neatly into place.  I wondered if the races were truly representative or whether they just happened to prove this point, so I did my own analysis and was struck by how contrary the actual facts were, especially on the issue of clean energy.

First, I took the toss up races in the Cook Report this week and evaluated how Democrats who voted on the House clean energy bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act) were faring.  Simply put, in the tossup races there was no real relationship between the members’ votes and how they were doing politically.  Basically it was almost a coin toss, with nearly half of Democrats in these tight races having voted against the bill (16 of 40).  For whatever reason these Democrats were having a tough race, it wasn’t voting for the clean energy bill.  If anything, the overall numbers suggested that backing the bill was generally good for Democrats insofar as over four-fifths (83%) of the Democrats that voted for the bill are now favored in their races while less than half of the Democrats (46%) who had voted against it are favored. 

In fact, a recent series of polls by the NRDC Action Fund in 23 closely contested congressional districts shows support for clean energy legislation by a wide margin, even when both sides of the argument are presented.  This includes races in coal states such as Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  And why not when the potential for clean energy job creation is so great in those states?  This is one reason the national polling in support of clean energy legislation has been so persistently positive for the last year, despite the onslaught of opposition money and misleading industry statements, and even if you use the jargon term, “cap-and-trade.”

I’m not saying that the bill was popular everywhere or an easy sell in every district.  However, I am definitely saying that the conservatives’ proposition that the bill was a universally unpopular measure, and that it only made sense for Democrats in swing districts to vote against it, is not supported by the evidence and never has been.    

In this analysis, the clean energy vote in the House seems to have helped more Democrats than it hurt, and certainly can’t be blamed for the large number of Democratic toss up races.  In fact, if the supporters of the legislation went out and sold the virtues of backing the clean energy bill, they would probably find the American people would give them positive credit for associating with it.  This would be a much better strategy than just accepting the conservative narrative about what a hard vote it was, and then wondering how to hide from having done the right thing.

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