Engaging Climate Voters: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

2020 has been an exhausting year but it's also been a year of real gains -- despite a global pandemic and election chaos. Climate is engaging ever more citizens to #VoteForEarth, whether they're hashtag users, or not.

In the aftermath of the election, we are nearing World War Zero's one-year anniversary as an organization. We thought the time was ripe to take stock of World War Zero’s journey and hard-fought wins so far -- and to determine what's next.

We knew many politicians were slow to act on climate change because they didn't think voters cared about it intensely enough to hold anyone accountable for inaction. In contrast, many felt intimidated by the potential backlash from deniers and delayers if they did act. We believed there was potential to grow a coalition for climate action beyond the existing believers by deploying unlikely messengers with targeted messages to reach new audiences on both sides of the aisle and across generations.

We invested in groundbreaking research focused on bridging divides -- specifically those between younger and older generations of American voters. We found great promise in younger Republican audiences to act where their conservative parents and grandparents were hesitant. This reaffirmed that reaching across the aisle and forming unlikely alliances was and is possible.

We also launched an online magazine, Front Lines, to bring new and different voices into the climate conversation -- from comedians to Republicans to experts in policy, health, science, and more. We've organized other ways to be heard, too -- starting with live in-person events through early 2020, and pivoting to live-streamed ones since the pandemic.

And, the results were impressive: 6.5 million people have viewed our video clips, 46 million Americans saw and engaged with our targeted ads, and climate-related content. Our live events have starred Republican Governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, young conservatives, climate activists, Generals and Admirals, scientists and doctors, and many Purple State voices. We know that our efforts bridged divides and aimed to enlist more climate voters.

Did any of the above make a difference? Just look at the 2020 presidential and vice-presidential debates: Climate held the stage for almost 30 minutes. In the 2016 presidential debates, climate wasn't even mentioned. Have you noticed more and more commercials about renewable energy, such as Hyundai's on paving the way for a sustainable future? Or, TIME Magazine's special edition about sustainable living? Back in January, BlackRock's CEO, Larry Fink announced that sustainability would be at the core of investment decision-making for the approximate $7 trillion managed by the firm. These examples aren't coincidences -- theyre tangible results of climate action hard at work.

We can also let the increasing number of climate voters tell the story:

  • Heading into the 2020 election, InsideClimate News said it best: "From East to West On Election Eve, Climate Change -- and it's Encroaching Peril -- Are On Americans' Minds."
  • Bloomberg News took us deeper inside the numbers, and found that "most Americans understand the basics of climate change and many would support policies to address it."
  • Pew agreed with Bloomberg: finding that a majority of registered voters in the United States said climate change would be a very (42%) or somewhat (26%) important issue.

And then, the exit polls of election night in America told a powerful story. The verdict on climate was loud and clear:

  • CNN's Exit Poll found that 66% of voters think climate change is a serious problem.
  • Even the FOX News Exit Poll found that 70% of voters favor increasing government spending on green and renewable energy; and 72% of voters are concerned about climate change.
  • The NBC News Exit Poll found that two-thirds of voters believed that climate change is a serious problem.

But our job is far from done for two reasons.

First, America remains divided in many ways. Whether we are Democrat or Republican; liberal or conservative; urban, rural, suburban, or exurban, where we come from shapes what we hear about climate change and who we trust to provide actionable information. A whole lot of Americans still hear the words "climate change" and think that the threat is exaggerated, or beyond our control, or that the cure might be worse than the disease. We, as Americans, are all trapped in filter bubbles. So, challenge one is to seize this moment to unite us -- to push forward the process of healing.

And second, in a year where a record number of Americans said that climate change was a very important issue -- how do we make sure that solutions are given a chance to succeed? We know there are huge numbers of Republicans and Democrats who want climate action -- both grassroots and grasstops voices -- but how do we make sure they hold the megaphone even if they don’t always hold the gavel in Washington?

We believe this can be the moment for action that unites.

Those dual challenges will be at the center of WW0's work moving forward.

To build long term, sustainable change around climate action, we have (so much) more work to do -- and critical audiences to reach.

We need to continue uniting unlikely allies -- who can act as trusted messengers -- to validate the climate crisis, defeat climate denial, and inspire more Americans to seize their own role in climate action.

To succeed, we need to evangelize the promise and reality that an energy transformation will result in good jobs and opportunities for everyone, not just the people on the coasts -- that it will make us all safer and healthier while on the road to net zero.

To succeed, we need to make more people feel invested in this mission.

At World War Zero, we believe that together is the only way we can get there.