Western voters agree on many concerns, including wildfires, loss of pollinators
By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
A 61% majority of voters across Colorado and seven other states in the West are more worried than hopeful about nature, pointing to climate change impacts, and 57% plan to get outdoors more often when the pandemic abates, a new opinion poll has found.
Uncontrollable wildfires, loss of pollinators and low water in rivers ranked among top concerns, according to results unveiled Thursday from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project poll.
The poll also found strong support for protecting nature — 85% favor restoring Clean Water Act coverage for smaller streams and wetlands and 93% support requiring oil and gas companies to pay all costs of cleanup and land restoration.
The results show 84% of respondents want the government to create new national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, tribal protected areas at historic sites and other recreation areas.
“We’re seeing strong voter concern for nature, which is translating into calls for bold action on public lands in the West,” said State of the Rockies Project director Katrina Miller-Stevens, a Colorado College economics professor. “If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear.”
The State of the Rockies poll, conducted annually since 2010, gives a look at Western positions on the environment and climate warming issues. Lawmakers, legislative lobbyists and advocacy groups watch it closely.
The State of the Rockies Project commissions the poll, which this year was based on a random sample of 3,842 voters, who were interviewed using English and Spanish from Jan. 2 to Jan.13 in eight states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) with at least 400 polled in each state. The margin of error was 2.2% overall and 4.8% for individual states.
The polling was done by a bipartisan team of Lori Weigel and her firm New Bridge Strategy, rooted in Republican politics, and Dave Metz of FM3 Research, which works mostly with Democrats.
Voters surveyed reflect a diverse population, with 38% identifying themselves as politically conservative, 22% as liberal and the rest as moderate. Poll data show 45% of respondents voted for Joe Biden and 42% for Donald Trump.
“What stands out in this poll is the agreement on big issues that often get painted as controversial,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities.
President Joe Biden has emphasized addressing climate change as a national priority. Westerners’ responses to 53 questions revealed voter priorities on specific environmental problems. For example, 63% of respondents ranked loss of pollinators such as bees and butterflies as extremely or very serious.
And 71% said wildfire is more of a problem now than 10 years ago, blaming climate change and drought. To address wildfire risks, 94% favored “removing overgrown brush and selected or dead trees” and 86% favored “updating zoning and building codes” for new development near forests to keep houses out of burn zones.
Over the past decade, the polling has shown rising climate concerns, Weigel said. “There’s a growing sense in the Rocky Mountain West that this is an issue that affects people directly.”
Biden officials looking at the West can see “a growing consensus for action,” Metz said. “It is a solid majority, not just among Democrats and Independents but among Republicans. There was a sense before that maybe this was a partisan issue. That has changed.”
Among other findings:
• 81% support a national goal of protecting 30% of land and waters by 2030.
• 55% see climate warming impacts affecting everyone equally, and 36% said “impacts will be more severe for lower-income people and communities of color.”
• Two thirds of respondents favor a shift to produce 100% of energy from clean, renewable sources over the next 10 to 15 years.
• More than two thirds said their member of Congress should emphasize protection of water, air quality and wildlife habitat.