Greens’ Bark Worse Than Bite: Environmental Issues Played Minor Role in Congressional Races

Despite predictions that environmental issues would sweep many Republican Senators and Congressmen out of office, environmental issues appear to have had a minimal impact on the 1996 Congressional elections and many Republicans targeted by environmental activists groups escaped unscathed.

“The best efforts of environmentalists failed to return a Democratic Congress, and they lost ground in the Senate,” commented Jonathan Adler, Director of Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of Environmentalism at the Crossroads: Green Activism in America. A Sierra Club election day release proclaimed that “Based on the number of candidate ads that cite an endorsement by the Sierra Club, the environment will be a powerful issue in this election… ”

“The Greens' bark was worse than their bite,” Adler noted. “The Republicans' failure to march in lockstep with the environmental establishment cost them very little.”

“This should not be a big surprise,” said Adler. “Polling data has consistently shown that Americans support both environmental protection and limited government. Just because people want environmental protection does not mean that they want extensive federal regulation.” Earlier this year, CEI released a National Survey of Attitudes on Environmental Policy that showed strong support for protecting private property rights and devolving authority for many environmental programs to state and local governments.

“There was a backlash against excessive federal regulations in the 1994 elections, and few candidates wished to appear unresponsive to the needs and concerns of small businesses and private landowners,” Adler said. In the Vice Presidential debate between Al Gore and Jack Kemp, Gore emphasized Clinton administration efforts to reduce red tape and regulatory burdens. “The Clinton reelection team clearly understood the importance of these issues,” Adler added. “When Clinton went the other way, and locked up 1.7 million acres in Utah, he cost the Democrats a seat.” Incumbent Rep. Bill Orton (D-UT) was defeated, in part, due to the backlash in his district, which contains the Escalante National Monument designated by President Clinton during the campaign.