Most Democratic Primary Voters Who Saw Ohio Debate: More Climate Talk, Please

Despite its status as a top-tier issue, moderators in Oct. 15 debate posed no climate questions
Suzannah Mullen holds a sign at a Greenpeace rally to call for a presidential campaign climate debate in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
October 23, 2019 at 12:01 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 56% of Democratic primary voters who watched the debate said climate change did not get enough attention, compared to 6 percent who said it was discussed too much.

  • 45% of Democrats have called climate change a crisis.

Reflecting on a debate bereft of any climate change questions, most Democratic primary voters said there was insufficient discussion of the topic at the party’s Oct. 15 face-off in Ohio, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll. 

Fifty-six percent of registered voters who indicated they may vote in the upcoming Democratic primary or caucus in their state and watched the CNN/New York Times-hosted debate in Westerville said it did not contain enough climate talk. The sample has a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

In the Oct. 18-21 poll, 6 percent said that there was too much discussion of climate change at the debate, while 29 percent said the topic received the right amount of attention.

Despite receiving zero direct climate queries from moderators at the event, several candidates made sure to mention climate change, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who co-sponsors the Green New Deal resolution, and billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, whose presidential campaign focuses on climate. The two contenders called global warming an “existential threat” and an “international crisis,” respectively.

Mentioning global warming at the debates makes a lot of sense for Democratic candidates: Among the major party affiliations, Democrats are the most concerned about climate change. A June 13-17 poll of 2,200 adults found that 45 percent of Democrats consider climate change a crisis, compared to 26 percent of independents and 8 percent of Republicans. 

Morning Consult/Politico polling has also found that across multiple surveys, climate change is one of the top three issues that Democratic voters have consistently identified as “very important” to see addressed during the events. 

Environmental groups have fruitlessly pressed the Democratic National Committee for months to hold a climate-focused debate. But in August, the DNC voted against allowing the candidates to take part in single-issue debates. Ten contenders participated in a seven-hour climate change town hall on Sept. 4 but appeared individually, not together.

There will be more opportunities for Democratic candidates to display their chops on the topic: The Weather Channel announced its intention to run a 1-hour pre-recorded special featuring interviews with nine 2020 candidates, including three Republicans, on climate change. 

The DNC has set the next multi-candidate Democratic debate for Nov. 20 in Georgia.

Jacqueline Toth previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering energy and climate change.

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