Emerging outdoor voting bloc strong in New Mexico

September 1, 2018

A passion for outdoor recreation and conserving our most treasured public spaces runs deep among New Mexico’s swing voters. The growing outdoor voting bloc in the Land of Enchantment may play a pivotal role in the outcome of this year’s elections.

A new poll of Western battleground states, conducted for the first time this year in New Mexico, surveyed the views of voters here, and in four other Mountain West states, on issues involving public lands, parks, and wildlife. We also asked what role those issues play in moving voters to the polls and influencing the candidates they choose.

New Mexico voters place a lot of importance on supporting the outdoor recreation economy. Seventy-five percent of voters think outdoor recreation will be important to the future of the state’s economy. Similarly, nearly 4 out of 5 believe the presence of public lands and the local outdoor recreation lifestyle are important to attracting good jobs and innovative companies to New Mexico.

When it comes to energy development, 85 percent of New Mexico voters favor investments in renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. Sixty percent oppose increasing oil and gas development on public lands. Where energy development does occur on public lands, they want to see commonsense safety protections and make sure taxpayers see a fair share return on the extraction of public resources.

It’s through this pro-outdoor lifestyle and conservation lens that New Mexicans judge the Trump administration’s record on public lands. The verdict is predictably alarming.

Overwhelming majorities of New Mexico voters — in the range of 70 percent — oppose administration actions like opening public lands close to national parks and monuments for oil and gas drilling, increasing public land available for oil and gas development by reducing efforts to protect potentially endangered wildlife, and rolling back safeguards on oil and gas development.

The most visible symbol of the Trump administration’s public lands agenda is also its most unpopular in New Mexico. Seventy-six percent of the voters — including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents — oppose reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

The net effect of its recent policies leaves the Trump administration with a 24 percent approval rating on handling public lands issues from New Mexico voters.

Our modeling shows voters who make up the state’s outdoor voting bloc are less partisan and ideological than traditional partisan breakdowns — and they plan on taking their views on public lands to the ballot box this November. Seventy percent of New Mexico voters said they are motivated to get out and vote when public lands are threatened, and 68 percent said they tend to vote for candidates who align the closest to their point of view on public lands. More than half of New Mexico voters said they will only vote for a candidate who shares their values on protecting public lands.

As election day approaches, it will be worth watching to see how New Mexico’s candidates position themselves when it comes to public lands, energy development, and recreation issues. If the growing outdoor voting bloc is any indication, outdoor issues could play an outsize role in the outcome of competitive elections across the Mountain West.

Jennifer Rokala is the executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation policy and advocacy organization focused on land and energy issues across the American West. The Center for Western Priorities is available to provide briefings on the importance of a pro-public lands message to winning Western votes. To learn more, please go to: WinningTheWest2018.org

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