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Black Voters Are Warming Up to Climate Change

African American voters will play an important role in battleground states during the November mid-term elections. Like most other Americans, the economy will significantly influence their ballot choices, but climate change also will be a key consideration.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report Thursday that analyzes African Americans’ opinions on climate change and the midterm elections. The findings are based on four random digit dialing telephone surveys of 500 black voters conducted between Nov. 11 and Dec. 1, 2009, in Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina. The states were chosen because they each will have many closely contested races whose outcome black voters could impact.

Approximately two-thirds of the respondents said they are following news about the mid-term elections either very or somewhat closely while the remaining one-quarter, which was comprised of older adults and people with higher levels of education, said they are following election news very closely. A higher percentage (74%-80%) of people than the number who voted in recent midterms said they will vote this fall.

When asked to rate the importance of climate change, economic recovery, and healthcare reform in determining their vote for U.S. Senator, 52% of the respondents in Arkansas and South Carolina, 45% in Indiana, and 44% in Missouri said that climate change would be very important. In each of the states, between 75- 80% said economic recovery would be very important and a similar percentage (74-84%) indicated that healthcare reform would be very important.

Such surveys are important educational tools that can be used to expand black awareness of issues that, given more immediate and pressing challenges, would otherwise fall by the wayside.

“African Americans seem to always fall behind in the issues that most painfully afflict them,” lamented Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. In addition to having the highest incidence of asthma, he said, many African American communities also are more likely to be located closer to landfills and sanitary waste water plants, and have homes in which there is asbestos or lead paint.

“All kinds of environmental dangers await African Americans after they’re born and move into predominately black areas and we’ve got to get them involved in environmental justice,” said Cleaver. “We can’t afford to have an ideological argument about climate change as others can, but we are emotional voters and if we don’t have an emotional connection to something or somebody, we turn out in anemic numbers.”

That can pose an electoral danger to many Congressional Black Caucus members, including those deemed safe. “Some, like me, have maybe a 15-17% black voting population,” Cleaver said, and given the current bitterly partisan atmosphere, “it’s a scary time.”

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