The Battle of the Ballot Box

Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.

-Mao Zedoung, Chinese Founder of the People's Republic of China

In the United States, every four years our presidential candidates declare war on each other and put their political lives on the line in their pursuit of the highest office in the land. Their quest is to enlist the largest number of voters to their cause in order to achieve victory.

The political landscape where these reoccurring battles take place constantly changes with the times. Forty years ago, U.S. presidential candidates did not have to make environmental issues part of their combat strategy. In contrast, this year both the Republican candidate, President George W. Bush, and the Democratic candidate, U.S. Senator John Kerry, have well-defined positions on a number of environmental issues, such as controlling air emissions from power plants, wetlands preservation, and the development of alternative fuel sources.

The main reason that the candidates are focusing more on green issues is that since the 1970s environmental protection has emerged as an important priority for the American public. Nowadays Americans are more familiar with the adverse effects of pollution on human health and the environment as a result of such well-publicized events as the incident at Love Canal, the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and popular movies like Erin Brokavich.

Of course, the recent events involving the 9-11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the growing unemployment rates probably have caused many Americans to shift their priorities somewhat. Recent polls, which ask respondents to rank their top concerns, indicate conflicting results for the issue of environmental protection. For example, according to a recent article "Polls Show Little Interest in a Green Agenda," written by James M. Taylor and published online by the Heartland Institute, environmental issues rank near the bottom of voters' priorities for this election season. The author points to this year's annual Gallup Earth Day Poll, which featured a list of nine concerns respondents were asked to consider. When the results were tabulated, the environment came in a distant eighth place, ahead of only race relations. Concerns such as health care, crime, drugs, domestic terror threats, the economy, immigration, unemployment, homelessness, and energy prices all ranked as higher than environmental issues.

The Gallup poll also showed that Americans have mixed views of the Bush administrations' environmental performance, with approval and disapproval ratings largely mirroring party affiliations. Forty-six percent of poll respondents stated Bush is doing a "poor job" handling environmental issues, while 41 percent said that he is doing a "good job."

In contrast, in his recent article "Who's Got the Power?," published in the Sierra Club's magazine, author Paul Rauber cites a May 2004 survey conducted by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies that shows the environment is the most important issue for one in ten voters. Additionally, according to the Yale poll, 35 percent of the poll respondents call it a "major factor" and 84 percent say it will have some influence on their vote.

As far as the topic of energy goes, the online news service CNN has put together a handy chart that features brief summaries about the viewpoints of Bush, Kerry, and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader concerning the following issues: drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, alternative fuels, gas mileage requirements, and the U.S. energy policy. 

Despite the current preoccupation of many voters with the issues of homeland security and the economy, a quick look at the Web sites of Bush and Kerry nonetheless shows each candidate realizes that an essential part of his arsenal in this year's presidential combat is a clearly articulated environmental policy. For many voters, the decision about which candidate should win the battle for the presidency will be based at least in part on whom they think can best deal with our country's present and future environmental challenges.

In the 21st century, we are entering a period in which it is crucial that we devise smart solutions to deal with growing industrial pollution and escalating depletion of our natural resources. Our next president will make decisions related to the environment during the following four years that will have a lasting impact on both our nation and the world at large. We need to remember, however, that the responsibility to protect our environment does not lie solely with elected officials or government bureaucrats -- it also resides with each of us in the voting booth. Please exercise your hard-won privilege as a U.S. citizen and vote for the candidate of your choice on November 2.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2004 issue of Environmental Protection.

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