Hillary Clinton describes the issue as “one of the most urgent threats of our time.” Donald Trump dismisses the problem as “a hoax.” The debate moderators didn’t even mention it.
From the candidates’ first meeting in Hempstead, New York to their last in Las Vegas, Nevada, neither fielded a single question about climate change.
That’s led some like Vox’s Brad Plumer to ponder the issue’s absence from the debate stage. But the answer is simple: It’s not the environment, stupid. And one doesn’t need the political intuition of James Carville to understand why.
Everyday Americans don’t lie awake at night worrying about greenhouse gases gradually increasing average global temperatures, melting polar ice caps, and rising sea levels. They’re concerned about the current state of their government and if they’ll have a job in the future. That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact demonstrated by 15 years of Gallup polling.
When asked to name the nation’s top problem, Americans, polled from 2001 to 2015, regularly named political conflict, economic wellbeing, and unemployment.
In 2015, 16 percent of Americans saw the government as the country’s chief problem followed closely by another 13 percent who named the economy. Concern about the environment peaked at a measly 3 percent.
That’s not to say that global warming isn’t a serious issue. It is. Each party’s platform addresses the issue at length, even if they come to opposite conclusions about policy.
For Democrats staking out their party’s official policy positions this year, global warming stands as “a defining challenge of our time,” one that requires immediate government intervention. More skeptical Republicans blame their opponents for whipping up the “sustained illusion of an environmental crisis.” They propose reining in the Environmental Protection Agency and scaling back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.