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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Georgia's Green and Brown Voters

Air Date: Week of

Many credit Georgia’s unprecedented voter turnout to voting rights groups and activists, including Stacey Abrams, former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. (Photo: Callie Giovanna, TED, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After the historic turnout of the 2020 Presidential election, all eyes turned to Georgia for the twin runoff races that would determine control of the Senate. Democrats pulled off victories for both Senate seats and gained control of the chamber, thanks in part to Georgia's environmental voters, who are statistically more likely to be people of color and young, and to live in urban centers. Nathaniel Stinnett, founder of the Environmental Voter Project, joins Steve Curwood to look at how the winning margin for the Senatorial victors was boosted by those unlikely voters who rank the environment as their top priority.


BASCOMB: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

Voters most likely to rate the environment number one in their concerns are young, black and brown, and they were key for the recent two senatorial wins in Georgia that gave the majority to Democrats, says Nathaniel Stinnett of the environmental voter project. He says data already available from the early voting in Georgia shows these environmental voters even outpaced participation by the general electorate.
Nathaniel Stinnett joins me now. Welcome back to Living on Earth!

STINNETT: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I always love being here.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about some of the numbers that you've seen from the Georgia runoffs. And what do they tell us?

STINNETT: We just saw record breaking turnout in Georgia, more than 4.4 million people voted. And to provide some context, Steve, there was record breaking turnout in Georgia for the presidential election, and only 5 million people voted. So I mean, we're gonna get to 90% of what presidential turnout was, of what record breaking presidential turnout was, for Georgia in this runoff, which was really extraordinary. Moreover, we know that environmentalists really, really punched above their weight. So, when we look at these environmentalists whom we identified at the environmental voter project, we know that before election day even arrived, Steve, 51% of them had cast early ballots, as opposed to only 40% of all registered voters had voted early in Georgia. So, before election day even arrived, the environmental movement was outpacing all registered voters in Georgia by 11 percentage points. And that was because there was historic Black turnout. I think a lot of your listeners are probably aware that there was historic Black turnout in Georgia. But what's really important to understand is two things. One, by historic we mean it will likely end up that more Black voters voted in this runoff than voted in the presidential election in Georgia.

The 2020 Presidential election saw an all-time high voter turnout nationally, as well as in Georgia, where around 5 million people cast ballots. In Georgia’s run-off, the total ballots are expected to nearly match that number. (Photo: Karri VanKirk, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

CURWOOD: Really?

STINNETT: Really. Votes are still being tallied, but it's going to be darn close, and we may even see higher turnout than we saw in the presidential. The second thing is college educated youth turned out huge. And those two groups? That's what the environmental movement looks like in Georgia, Steve, and they turned out big time in this runoff.

CURWOOD: So, part of your work is to encourage people who don't or who haven't voted in the past. To what extent do you think that your work got people out to vote in this runoff that had never voted before?

STINNETT: So, we were targeting 382,000 unlikely-to-vote environmentalists in Georgia. And what we know is that 30% of them, 115,000, voted early. We know that because we can see that in public voter files in Georgia. 6,700 of these unlikely-to-vote environmentalists who we know voted early, didn't even vote in the presidential election. Nobody skips a presidential election, and then votes in a runoff. This is completely unprecedented. And we saw almost 7,000 environmentalists do that in Georgia. To reiterate, Steve, these people weren't supposed to vote at all. They were unlikely voters, which means they had either never voted before, or they had only voted in presidential elections before. And to have 30% of them vote early. That is truly extraordinary, and it's not just because we at the Environmental Voter Project do a good job. The entire environmental movement did a great job. And Black churches did a great job. And youth organizations did a great job. I mean, this was historic environmental turnout.

CURWOOD: Now, you don't know what the party registrations or party affiliations of any of your voters are in Georgia, Nathaniel, but what is your best take as to who they might have been? How many of them identify as GOP?

STINNETT: So, it's hard to put our finger on it. And it's not because I'm trying to be squirrely, it's because we have a 50-state patchwork of how voter files are put together. For instance, in Georgia, we don't know the party affiliation of any of the environmentalists we're going after. So, that's really hard to put a finger on. What we know from what we just saw in 2020 is that Republicans will go where the votes are, just like Democrats will, because every politician wants to win elections. I mean, we know from this fall, when Republican senators in Montana and Colorado were instrumental in pushing through the Great American Outdoors Act. We also know from Republicans who were running for Congress in Florida, that they will lead on the environment. But are there many more Democratic voters who care about climate and the environment? Oh, yeah. Yeah, you better believe it. But what we see in our data is that the environment is, at least not yet, an ideological litmus test for Republicans. Rather, it's more of a strategic consideration. They will not lead on climate or the environment, if they don't think it's necessary, because then they can get all this fossil fuel money and support. But where it is necessary to lead on the environment, where it is necessary to lead on climate change, in order to win an election. Well, Republicans will do what any politician does, and that is go where the votes are.

Nathaniel Stinnett serves as Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project. (Photo: Courtesy of the Environmental Voter Project)

CURWOOD: So, some would say that Joe Biden owes his path to the White House to Black people, Jim Clyburn speaking up in South Carolina, Stacey Abrams in Georgia. What, if anything, have you seen in your in your surveys that tells you what Mr. Biden needs to do to keep that coalition behind him?

STINNETT: We really need to think of this on two axes. It's how do you get people from a certain community to really like you a lot. But also, how do you get the disengaged members of that community to engage. Joe Biden has a significant level of support from the Black community. But it is never going to be enough, unless he also makes sure that ones who have been previously disengaged from politics remain engaged. And for that he needs to lead in an aggressive and powerful way on environmental justice issues. It's very clear in all of our data, that Black Americans and Latinx Americans don't care deeply about the environment because of some fluke. They care about it because coal fired power plants aren't put in lily-white suburbs. They're put in communities of color. And environmental injustice is the main driving reason why the environmental movement looks the way it does look, as we've been discussing today, Steve. And so I am really confident that President Elect Biden not only needs to, but it would be politically smart for him to lead on environmental justice issues and make sure to get cleaner air and cleaner water and climate resilience in communities of color and our big urban centers.

CURWOOD: Nathaniel Stinnett is the founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project. Thanks so much for your time today, Nathaniel.

STINNETT: Thank you so much for having me, Steve. Happy New Year.



Learn more about the Environmental Voter Project

Listen to LOE’s most recent segment with Nathaniel Stinnett

The New York Times | “Georgia Highlights: Democrats Win the Senate as Ossoff Defeats Perdue”


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