Why don’t environmentalists vote?

We don’t know yet how many people who identify as environmentalist voted in last November’s election, but if recent data is a guide, a lot of them stayed home.

In a lecture to Boston College, reprinted on WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog today, Nathaniel Stinnett, the founder and CEO of the Environmental Voter Project, says only one in five voted in the mid-term elections of 2014. He thinks the 2016 turnout will be even worse, an odd phenomenon considering the environmental issues have seemingly grown more urgent.

But he says politicians tailor their message to people who vote and if environmentalists aren’t voting, politicians aren’t going to make it much of a priority.

There’s an old adage that policy is not made on Election Day, it’s made in the time between election days. Politicians are already fielding new polls to determine their legislative priorities for 2017 and 2018, but their pollsters only survey voters, which means that most environmentalists won’t be heard until we start voting.

Whom you vote for is secret, but how often you vote is a public record. Rolls of active voters are the lifeblood of campaign strategy. Simply by voting, environmentalists can appear on a campaign’s radar and become the focus of all polling, messaging and spending. Despite adages that disparage the impact of a single vote, the individual voter is a more potent political force than ever before.

With politicians already focusing on the next election, the challenge to the environmental movement is to identify our non-voting environmentalists and mobilize them to do just one thing on one day: vote.