Post-election rundown: was cap-and-trade vote a deciding factor?

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After major Democratic losses turned the House of Representatives majority over to the Republicans, commentary on whether controversial votes were a liability for candidates is widespread.  For cap-and-trade climate legislation, a number of competing analyses suggest that the answer depends on how you look at it.

Earlier CSW post: A good night for climate change deniers and contrarians

Politico, reporting on the “House Democrats’ bloodbath,” noted that more than two-dozen Democratic supporters of the “controversial House climate bill were slaughtered at the ballot box,” highlighting the losses of Virginia Reps. Tom Perriello and Rick Boucher.

Over at the Wonk Room, Brad Johnson responded that in fact, “81 percent of Democrats voting for the climate bill won their races,” and “64 percent of Democrats voting against the climate bill lost their seat.”

E&E Daily (by subscription) reported: “Among the Democratic-held House seats rated most endangered on election eve by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, 61 percent of incumbents who voted for the 2009 cap-and-trade bill lost their races.  But the most threatened incumbents who opposed the legislation fared even worse, with 79 percent falling despite their resistance to a measure the GOP savaged as ‘cap and tax.’”

The Glover Park Group found that among “Vulnerable Democrats Voting Yes on ACES,” only 19.4% lost their races.

However, on the Huffington Post Brendan Nyhan cautioned against arguments that voting for cap-and-trade did not hurt Democrats, saying that “opponents of cap-and-trade were more likely to represent marginal districts.  The fact that they lost at higher rates doesn’t mean that cap-and-trade didn’t hurt its Democratic supporters.”

E&E Daily also noted: “The better overall performance by vulnerable House Democrats who survived after backing the climate plan—a camp that ranges from the Mountain West to the South and includes three Iowans—is hardly a vindication of a legislative process that left even some environmentalists soured on the final cap-and-trade bill.  It does suggest, however, that many Democrats in swing districts were brought low by voter discontent with a bad economy and an ambitious federal agenda, not the 1,200-page climate plan specifically.”

And Brian Walsh wrote on Time.com: “Most of the anti-cap Democrats who lost were Blue Dogs [the more conservative Democrats] representing generally conservative districts—and the Blue Dogs as a whole were especially hammered in this election, with half the caucus sent packing.  The problem is that cap-and-trade—and climate action more generally—is already a pretty easy sell on the blue [East and West] coasts.  But if cap-and-trade—or any climate action—is going to become law nationally, it’s gong to need some support in more conservative parts of the country, in the Midwest and the South.  That support is not there right now.  Voting against Waxman-Markey wasn’t enough to save those vulnerable Democrats in conservative areas—but that hardly translates into approval for a carbon cap.”

And finally, Joshua Rosenau at Science Blogs did some regressions of his own, finding “no evidence that voting for or against the climate bill did Democrats any harm at the polls.”

So we can conclude that “climate hawks” (those who favor strong policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) – were not the major losers in this election—but for the most part, theirs were not the most difficult races.  Many of the Democrats who went down in the House are Blue Dogs who were elected in 2008 to generally conservative districts, shrinking the House Democrats back down to a more liberal, progressive base.

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