The Center for Western Priorities released a new report, “Winning the West: Election 2022,” detailing how public lands were a winning issue in the 2022 election and how pro-conservation positions often gave candidates a competitive edge in close races.
According to the report, candidates like new Congressman Gabe Vasquez in New Mexico highlighted their conservation agendas and records to win close elections against candidates like incumbent Yvette Herrell, who sided more often with oil and gas development.
In the race for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat, Senator Michael Bennet used recent public lands victories, including President Biden’s designation of Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, to connect with voters and handily win an election that was expected to be much closer.
Other Western contests saw anti-conservation candidates win by much smaller margins than expected, such as former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who narrowly defeated environmental attorney Monica Tranel for Montana’s open House seat in a race that ended up taking several days to call.
At the same time, several races showed that simply talking about public lands is not enough to secure a win. While some candidates such as Joe O’Dea in Colorado and Alexis Martinez Johnson in New Mexico touched on environmental issues in their campaigns, they ultimately lost to opponents—Michael Bennet and Teresa Leger Fernandez, respectively—who had more specific plans to protect the West’s outdoor spaces and proven track records on conservation.
The election results reflect polling conducted by the Center for Western Priorities in May 2022. As with previous election cycles, the 2022 Winning the West Poll found 81 percent of voters in Western swing states Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico said national public lands, parks and wildlife issues would play an important role in how they chose to vote. The poll also found urgency for more action as voters expressed frustrations with politicians in D.C. being out-of-touch and not delivering on what they promised Western voters on the outdoor and public lands issues they care so much about.
“The 2022 midterm elections confirmed what Western outdoor voters know in our hearts already — support for public lands is a winning issue in the West,” said Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities. “Looking ahead, the election outcomes serve as clear guidance for President Biden and for members of Congress as they set their respective agendas for the next two years. With dysfunction all but certain to paralyze Congress, the president can use the next two years to build a solid conservation legacy using executive action, which remains overwhelmingly popular with the public. And members of Congress can know that voters see and appreciate their conservation efforts despite gridlock in Congress.”
With a growing outdoor voting bloc and high-profile competitive U.S. Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, and Montana on the ballot in 2024, the Center for Western Priorities will continue tracking the connection between public lands issues and electoral success.