The Center for Western Priorities Winning the West: Election 2020 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 this year’s elections.
Public lands—how they are used, their importance to local economies, and the way they define life in the West—were a key component of winning campaigns in 2020, with 19 of the 21 races tracked in six Western states featuring significant pro-public lands advertising or messaging. In high-profile races in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, the importance of outdoor issues has solidified to the extent that candidates with consistently pro-public lands positions have prevailed in most close elections.
This year, support for public lands and conservation emerged stronger than ever. Polling shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the value that Westerners place on the outdoors, with 34 percent of voters saying that the importance of public lands, parks, and wildlife issues increased for them during the pandemic.
In the campaigns analyzed in the report, winning candidates leveraged public lands and outdoor issues 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. Candidates across party lines celebrated legislative victories on conservation issues and criticized opponents for lackluster records on protections for public lands. Notably, extreme anti-public lands positions, such as selling off national public lands to private interests or turning them over to state control, were absent from this year’s competitive races.
Going forward, we expect the influence of the growing “outdoor voting bloc”—currently estimated at more than 2 million voters across the West—to continue shaping campaigns. As newly elected officials step into office, voters will be looking for campaign messages to be translated into legislative action on public lands.
The Center for Western Priorities’ Winning the West campaign is intended to educate candidates and campaigns about how important it is to show strong support for public lands and access to outdoor spaces, particularly in battleground Mountain West states. To learn more, visit WinningTheWest2020.org.Read the Report