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Washington Can Do Better Talking to Black and Latino Voters About Climate Change

3 minute read

Study after study has shown the disparate impact of climate change and other environmental crises on communities of color in the United States. Whether it’s urban heat waves or hurricanes, the effects routinely hit people of color harder than the general population.

But polling has also regularly shown that climate change remains a back burner issue for the vast majority of Black and Latino voters, falling behind the economy and other issues. It’s a challenging dynamic as Democrats look for the political momentum to get President Joe Biden’s climate agenda embedded in the Build Back Better Act over the finish line—and then turn to show how they delivered results ahead of the midterm elections.

Results of a new survey released Tuesday suggest a way forward — if politicians and policymakers do a better job connecting the dots between climate change and the economy. The polling, commissioned by the think tank Third Way and non-profit groups WE ACT for Environmental Justice and GreenLatinos, shows that a majority of Black and Latino voters are concerned that climate change is happening, with some 64% of respondents saying felt they had already experienced the effects of climate change personally. The most effective messages, they reported, tended to focus on bread-and-butter issues, like local job growth and the affordability of energy and transportation.

“Black and Latino communities across the board—no matter what religion they are, no matter their socio-economic background—respond to the connection between climate and jobs and the economy,” says report co-author Jared DeWese, senior communications advisor at Third Way.

The polling, which surveyed 1,800 Black and Latino voters in the politically significant states of Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania, tested a variety of messages about climate change. The message of “good-paying jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation,” for example, was convincing to 81% of respondents, while 63% of respondents said they were convinced by the argument that climate change “makes it harder for people of color to succeed.” The poll had a margin of error of ±2.3 percentage points.

Linking climate change to kitchen table economic concerns isn’t a new strategy. For years, politicians have promoted green job growth along with their wider climate agenda. The Biden Administration at times has gone even further, often emphasizing the economic possibilities of the transition to green energy over the dire effects of allowing a fossil fuel driven economy to continue. On the road, Biden often repeats a version of the refrain “when I think of climate change, I think about jobs,” and highlights the clean energy job provisions of his Build Back Better legislation when speaking in local communities across the country.

“There are a lot of pieces: Build Back Better, the infrastructure package,” says Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, the clean transportation and energy lead at GreenLatinos. “It’s very hard for someone like Joe Biden, who’s really good at saying, ‘we’re going to bring things into your community,’ to also say things that are specific enough.”

The groups behind the new polling support Biden’s messaging so far, but say that more needs to be done to localize the messaging so that voters can understand the direct implications of climate policy in their own lives. Members of Congress and local activists can help bridge the gap, they say, by explaining in concrete terms what climate policy will mean, from new jobs in solar installation to cleaning up polluted areas.

“It’s really about meeting people where they are,” says DeWese.

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Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com