Climate change is playing a larger — and more polarizing — role than ever before in a presidential election.
Why it matters: In the past, the topic barely registered with voters and candidates were less polarized. Today, all Democratic candidates are treating it as a crisis, with detailed plans and funding sources to address it, while President Trump ignores the problem and bashes those plans.
The big picture: The impacts of climate change, like more intense wildfires and more severe flooding, are increasing in frequency. Meanwhile, ways to solve the problem, like renewable energy, are becoming more affordable, even while the science increasingly says the problem is growing more dire.
- These developments taken together are making climate change a tangible issue for broader swaths of the population than in the past — so it’s permeating our politics in newly forceful ways.
Between the lines: Multiple surveys of public opinion show Americans' growing concern about climate change being driven almost entirely by Democrats.
- Democrats are looking to clamp down significantly on fossil fuels and enact ever-more aggressive and expensive plans, embodied around the Green New Deal rhetoric.
Flashback: Here’s a brief run down memory lane.
- In the 2016 and 2012 presidential contests, climate change didn’t register much with either the candidates or the voters.
- In 2008, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama both acknowledged climate change as a problem and put forward aggressive policies.
- The topic rarely came up in presidential contests before that, largely because it was just beginning to emerge as a public issue. More traditional environmental problems were paramount.
Climate change has received far more attention among Democratic candidates than it ever has in the past.
- Although the topic is still not a top focus in the Democratic primary debates, CNN and MSNBC both hosted forums for the candidates to discuss climate change.
The other side: Congressional Republicans, who have mostly ignored climate change for the last decade, are looking to respond to what is a growing public opinion trend of younger people being more worried about climate change than older people.
- Trump campaign spokesperson Sarah Matthews criticized the Green New Deal and Democrats' plans to significantly curtail — or even eliminate altogether — fossil fuels.
The bottom line: While it won’t be the top issue in the election, we’re entering a new high water mark for climate change and its political saliency.