The Center for Western Priorities Winning the West: Election 2018 report reveals the growing trend of winning candidates highlighting their support for public lands and outdoor issues in order to connect with Mountain West voters in last year’s elections.
Public lands—how they are used, their importance to local economies, and the way they define life in the West—were often featured as a distinguishing issue by winning campaigns. In high-profile races in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico, candidates used outdoor issues to reach swing voters, who polling shows support a balanced approach to managing conservation, recreation, and energy development in the Mountain West. Due to the growing “outdoor voting bloc,” in most competitive states and districts across the region, candidates had to be pro-public lands to win, according to the report.
In the campaigns analyzed in the report, winning candidates leveraged public lands to gain support while using the mountains and outdoor spaces of the Mountain West to serve as the backdrop of numerous campaign ads and pro-public lands messages on social media. Of the 22 races tracked throughout the election, 20 featured significant pro-public lands advertising or public lands messaging. Winning candidates highlighted their opposition to the Trump administration’s public lands agenda, including shrinking national monuments, reversing bans on uranium mining near national parks and opening more protected public lands up for private development. By contrast, candidates with extreme anti-public lands or legislative records found themselves out of step with Western voters and were defeated at the polls.
During the 2018 election cycle, the Center for Western Priorities’ Winning the West effort partnered with national bipartisan polling firm Gottlieb Strategic Research to conduct public opinion surveys in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico. The polling produced voter models that provide a closer look at the groups who make up an outdoor voting bloc that is gaining influence in close Mountain West elections. Gottlieb Strategic Research also conducted online focus groups and a first-of-its-kind social media analysis that revealed how Western voters incorporate public lands into their online conversations.Read the report