We’re Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds. Now Environmentalists Need to Vote.
You want to know what's better than marching? VOTING!
Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project joined the Rising Tide Summit to discuss data analytics and behavioral science and how they are used to revolutionize our understanding of how and why people decide to vote. During the discussion, he highlighted how that information can lead to some counter-intuitive thinking and exciting news for the environmental movement in 2019 and 2020.
“Those of us who care about the oceans have some pretty heavy lifts, we have some big problems to solve,” Stinnett said.
The project identifies non-voting environmentalists and turns them into better voters. They don’t lobby for policies or endorse specific candidates and focus specifically on changing voter behavior.
“One of the big problems we are trying to figure out is why can’t we consistently have environmental leadership,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons is that voters don’t prioritize environmental issues, which has an enormous impact on how policies are made.”
In his discussion, Stinnett said the project was started because of his frustration with voters’ lack of care for environmental issues. After looking at polling data, he realized the reason so few voters care about these issues is not because so few Americans care, it is because those who do care do not vote.
“It turns out people who care deeply about environmental issues are disproportionately awful voters,” he said. “One of the biggest problems the environmental movement has right now is not a persuasion problem, it is a turnout problem. Who you vote for is secret but whether you vote or not is public record.”
Stinnett said changing the mind of someone who denies that climate change is real is incredibly difficult but encouraging someone who already believes in climate change to show up to vote is much easier. Using data analytics, he uses tools to identify who these people are and then uses behavioral science to change their voting behavioral. The project will go into a state and talk to voters when they have an election – even if it is for dog catcher or library trustee – and then they continue their work until they have changed that non-voter into a consistent voter.
“We are this weird environmental non-profit that never talks about the environment,” he said. “We can afford to be message-agnostic, all we care about is finding the right way to nudge people into taking a new behavior.”
The project collects data by polling people by asking them to list their first and second most important political priority. They sift through that information to identify anyone who listed anything related to the environment, and work with data scientists to find hidden patterns and correlations in that data. Once they have those patterns – such as Latina women between 30 and 35 who subscribe to National Geographic and only have a cellphone line are 10 times more likely to care about their environment – they create a predictive model to find those people in order to encourage them to vote.