Colorado College released its annual Conservation in the West Poll, and we once again have evidence that Nevadans and fellow American Westerners support strong environmental protection and climate action. Just like the strong poll numbers we’re seeing for President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, this poll shows strong support for Biden to “go big” on climate and conservation.
Surprise (but not really), Nevadans and other Westerners are worried about the state of our planet.
In the midst of the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol and the rest of the fallout from former President Donald Trump’s failed coup to consolidate his power after losing the election, it’s easy to forget about the rest of Trump’s legacy. But as the Colorado River, Lake Tahoe, and our other natural resources regularly remind us, climate change continues to be our greatest global security crisis, and Trump’s insistence on worsening rather than solving it is just another of the major policy headaches that President Joe Biden has inherited.
Just as Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project’s Conservation in the West Poll showed in 2019, and just as the Center for Western Priorities’ Winning the West Poll showed last year, this year’s Conservation in the West Poll shows that Trump left behind an unpopular environmental agenda, and that Biden has a popular mandate to take the nation’s environmental policies in a new direction. (Disclaimer: Their Nevada numbers appear to skew too heavily Democratic, though their larger regional numbers don’t appear to be quite as heavily skewed.)
According to this new poll, 66% of Nevada voters and 61% of Western voters overall are worried about the future of nature. From 2011 to 2021, the amount of voters in the five states where Colorado College has consistently polled (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) who place climate change as an extremely or very serious problem has doubled from 27% to 54%. Moving back towards home, 54% of Nevada voters see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, 69% feel similarly about low water supply in our rivers, 57% feel similarly about water pollution affecting our regional water sources, 51% feel similarly about loss of fish and wildlife habitat, 53% feel similarly about major wildfires, 49% feel similarly about air pollution, and 46% feel similarly about the impact of fossil fuel drilling on our air, land, and water.
“This really is an area, when we’re talking about the concept of ‘unity’, where all the parties are strongly united.”
– Dave Metz, FM3 Research and one of the pollsters who conducted the Conservation in the West Poll
So what do voters want to do about it? According to the Conservation in the West Poll, 71% of Nevada voters and 66% of Western voters overall support the transition to 100% renewable energy production over the next 10-15 years. 81% of Nevada voters and Western voters support banning fossil fuel drilling on public lands where wildlife migrate. 78% of Nevada voters and 73% of Western voters support restoration of Endangered Species Act protection for threatened wildlife who were delisted by the Trump administration. 88% of Nevada voters and 85% of Western voters support restoration of Clean Water Act protections for streams and seasonal wetlands that were delisted by the Trump administration.
And when it comes to public lands protection, we continue to see a strong consensus for protection over “drill, baby, drill”. 80% of Nevada voters and 77% of Western voters support restoration of national monuments, such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, where Trump was finalizing plans to allow fossil fuel extraction. 82% of Nevada voters and 77% of Western voters support Biden’s promise to conserve 30% of America’s land and water by 2030. And even on the question of whether the federal government should designate new national parks and monuments, 85% of Nevada voters and 84% of Western voters support new protections for additional public lands.
During a press call to announce the new poll results, Dave Metz, Principal and President at FM3 Research (one of the companies that conducted this poll), pointed to these numbers as tangible evidence that, “There’s a broad consensus on taking action to promote conservation in the West. […] This really is an area, when we’re talking about the concept of ‘unity’, where all the parties are strongly united.”
“When we talk about conservation, we talk about much more than our land, water, and air. We also talk about protecting our economy, our communities, and social justice.”
– Maite Arce, President and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation
For all the local and national focus on tourism (and lack thereof) on the Las Vegas Strip, this new Conservation in the West poll suggests that most Nevadans and Westerners may look beyond “party tunnels”, “BJ tournaments”, “cashless advance” slot machines, and other typical Vegas Strip gimmicks when they’re ready to resume or expand their travel plans. 53% of Nevada voters and 57% of Western voters say they plan to visit protected public lands more often once the pandemic is under control, versus 7% of Nevada voters and 4% of Western voters who say they’ll visit public lands less often. And 65% of Nevada voters, alongside 77% of Western voters overall, view protected public lands as beneficial to the economy, versus 4% of Nevada and Western voters who think public lands protections hurt the economy.
While Governor Steve Sisolak (D) and the Nevada Legislature’s leaders are strongly hinting that they’ll only advance “no-cost” environmental legislation, 90% of Nevada voters support the state government investing more in protecting the state’s natural resources. And in stark contrast to past stereotypes about voters of color being more “culturally conservative” and environmentalists being “Whole Foods hippies”, the Conservation in the West results show consistent support for stronger environmental protection among Black, Latinx, and Native American voters.
As Maite Arce, President and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, explained, “Latino, Black, and Indigenous voters in the West are passionate about the environment and climate change.” She then added, “Why do these communities care so much? When we talk about conservation, we talk about much more than our land, water, and air. We also talk about protecting our economy, our communities, and social justice.”