Voters in AZ, CO, NM, and NV support specific conservation proposals in their state; are more concerned with development on public lands than high gas prices
DENVER—A new Winning the West poll released by the Center for Western Priorities shows outdoor and public lands issues are critical to motivating Western voters and points to voter frustrations with the lack of action on conservation policies.
The poll—conducted in the swing states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada by Benenson Strategy Group—examined Westerners’ positions on outdoor issues leading into the 2022 midterm elections. The results make it unmistakably clear that the outdoors are central to Western voters and their way of life. 90 percent of voters say that national public lands, parks, and wildlife issues are important to them, and 81 percent of voters say that these issues will play an influential role in how they choose to vote. The finding holds true across party lines with 87 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents, and 73 percent of Republicans reporting that conservation issues will impact their vote.
When it comes to public lands and environmental issues, 60 percent of voters are concerned that the government will not do enough to protect America’s natural resources against overdevelopment and environmental disasters. 81 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents, and 32 percent of Republicans express that view.
“This year’s poll reaffirms elected officials must highlight their conservation policies in order to motivate and win Westerners’ votes,” said Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities. “What’s new is that we are starting to see frustrations from voters who feel that politicians in D.C. are out-of-touch and not delivering on what they promised Western voters on the outdoor and public lands issues they care so much about.”
Conservation issues are a huge and growing concern among Western voters
Public lands and environmental issues are expected to play an important role in the upcoming midterms. According to Western voters, conservation issues have become even more important to them over the past two years. 53 percent of voters say that public lands, parks, and wildlife issues have become more important to them, and 26 percent say they have become much more important.
Furthermore, Western voters are more likely to back leaders who support conservation issues. The poll found that 88 percent of Westerners are more favorable to an elected leader who supports protecting existing national parks and national monuments (90 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Independents, and 86 percent of Republicans). Additionally, 84 percent of Westerners are more favorable to an elected official who wants to ensure public lands are protected from development and 83 percent are more favorable to one who promises to invest in recreation sites and parks. 77 percent are more favorable to an elected official who wants to designate new national parks and monuments.
By contrast, just 21 percent of voters are more favorable to an elected official who supports drilling and mining for oil and other minerals on public lands. Only 11 percent of voters are more favorable to an elected official who wants to develop public lands for commercial purposes.
Voters out West are worried about the future of public lands and waters that make the West unique. The poll found that 78 percent of Westerners are concerned that pollution is threatening rivers, lakes, and streams. 74 percent of voters are concerned about the effects of climate change, like severe droughts and wildfires, on public lands. Additionally, 75 percent of people are concerned that overdevelopment is threatening our nation’s rural areas, forests, and natural heritage.
Many Western voters do not think elected leaders are focused enough on key environmental issues affecting their communities and way of life. According to the poll, 77 percent of Western voters are concerned that politicians in Washington do not understand the way of life in the West and that the decisions being made in D.C. hurt the economy and quality of life in Western and rural areas. When asked to name issues that impact Western states that politicians in D.C. do not understand or pay enough attention to, 29 percent of voters mention water/drought, 15 percent mention fire mitigation, and 9 percent mention climate change/global warming.
Westerners support President Biden’s conservation efforts but would like to see more action on this issue
Western voters want more action from President Biden on conservation issues. 66 percent of voters believe that the current administration has not done enough to create and protect new public lands and national monuments. Showing their appetite for swift action on public land protections, 68 percent of Western voters (87 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents, and 48 percent of Republicans) support the president designating national monuments through his executive authority.
The Biden administration can build support from Western voters by focusing on its conservation agenda, according to the poll. 69 percent of Western voters say they would be more favorable toward President Biden if he did more to protect and conserve public lands, parks, and wildlife. However, the poll also indicates the Biden administration may not be receiving due credit for the actions already taken on these issues and needs to publicize its work better. Less than half (43 percent) of Westerners report hearing much about the president’s conservation agenda.
President Biden’s conservation initiatives that are known have broad, bipartisan support. A strong majority of voters–76 percent–-approve of President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, including 92 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Independents, and 59 percent of Republicans. Additionally, 80 percent of Westerners support the infrastructure investments Biden made in national parks and public lands to restore natural areas. There is also strong support for national monuments with 81 percent of voters supporting Biden’s restoration of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Support for several specific conservation efforts is strong across states in the Mountain West. In Arizona, 60 percent of voters support permanently banning new uranium and other mining on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. 86 percent of Coloradans support the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which would protect over 400,000 acres of land in the state through new wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas. 80 percent of voters in New Mexico support proposals to preserve Caja del Rio, which would help preserve culturally significant sites and an important wildlife corridor. In Nevada, 77 percent of voters support a proposal to designate Spirit Mountain (Avi Kwa Ame) as a national monument.
Strong majority of Western voters want to invest in renewable energies to break dependence on oil and gas
As gas prices rise, many Westerners believe it is time to invest in renewable energies both to break dependence on oil and gas and protect public lands from drilling and extraction. For example, 78 percent of voters believe that leaders need to do more to support the clean energy industries in their state, including 82 percent of Coloradans, 81 percent of Arizonans, 73 percent of New Mexicans, and 79 percent of Nevadans. Additionally, 81 percent of voters believe that states in the West need better options for clean energy to suit the West’s unique climate and landscapes.
Western voters also show more favorability to candidates who support renewable energy. According to the poll, 77 percent of Westerners are more favorable toward candidates who created new clean energy jobs. 80 percent of voters in Colorado, 79 percent in Arizona, 72 percent in New Mexico, and 77 percent in Nevada feel similarly. 74 percent of Westerners are also more favorable toward candidates who invested in the renewable energy sector, including 76 percent of Coloradans, 76 percent of Arizonans, 68 percent of New Mexicans, and 76 percent of Nevadans.
The poll also demonstrates that Westerners are concerned about the environmental impact of drilling for oil on public lands. To that point, 68 percent of Westerners are concerned about environmental disasters like oil spills that threaten to destroy critical land and water resources. Additionally, 67 percent of Westerners are concerned about protections being weakened for wildlife and endangered species in favor of more land for drilling and mining. 64 percent of Westerners agree that oil and gas development on public land should be only allowed with strict limitations and regulations to ensure that our land, wildlife, water, and public safety are protected first and foremost. This sentiment remains true across states with 70 percent of Coloradans, 68 percent of Arizonans, 60 percent of New Mexicans, and 60 percent of Nevadans agreeing with the statement.
In fact, Western voters care deeply about protecting public lands from overdevelopment and exploitation. 74 percent of Westerners believe that the Western way of life is about protecting, not profiting off, public lands. Furthermore, 75 percent of voters are concerned about oil and mining companies, huge foreign-owned corporations, and developers making record profits off America’s land, but not paying their fair share for the damage they do to it.
Westerners see clean energy as the solution to the current energy crisis and are frustrated with oil companies. When it comes to rising gas prices, 78 percent of Westerners blame oil companies for the increased expense, 76 percent blame Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, and 75 percent blame politicians blocking policies to support clean energy.
The Winning the West poll was conducted in May 2022 by Benenson Strategy Group. It included 2,011 online interviews with 2022 likely voters in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. The sample was weighted to ensure it was proportionally representative of voters in each state. The margin of error for the entire sample is ±2.19 percent.
The complete Winning the West poll results for each of the five states surveyed are available at westernpriorities.org/winning-the-west.