The day after the 2012 election, I had the pleasure of leading a class of Davidson Learns, a new lifelong learning initiative serving the Lake Norman area, on environmental issues in Presidential elections. The talk was entitled “Does the Earth Matter, and in it I took the audience on a whirlwind tour of presidential debates, which was fun because unlike my Davidson undergraduate students, most in the audience remembered these events very clearly. We watched clips from debates between Bush, Clinton, and Perot, Clinton and Dole, Bush and Gore, and Bush and Kerry, and Obama and McCain, and looked at word clouds from these debates of terms relating to the environment. We also discussed data and analyses of public opinion related to the environment and presidential candidates.
My thesis was that while environmental issues have never been the most important issue in a presidential campaign, 1) they have influenced some voter preferences and 2) they have been key components of campaign strategy in all of the presidential elections. This is primarily due to their latent importance to the American electorate. We had a lively and interesting discussion of these ideas – it was great to connect and talk about American politics and the environment with members of the broader Davidson community, and look forward to doing it again in the future.