Losers on Election Day in Texas had one thing in common: Opposition to climate legislation

Two (possibly three) members of Congress in Texas lost their seats in the Republican (and outside money) tsunami that swept the country-Rep. Chet Edwards, Ciro Rodriguez, and Solomon Ortiz – whose race is at this point still too close to call, but he trails his opponent by several hundred votes.  Many in the punditocracy have tried to come up with one common denominator to explain the Republican tidal wave, and some have settled on the vote on climate change legislation, HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) or Waxman-Markey.  Politico jumped (the shark?) to this conclusion: “House Democrats who voted for the 2009 bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions – dubbed cap-and-tax by GOP opponents – had a terrible night.”

But this is widely debunked, first in this piece from Think Progress’s Wonk Room blog:

In fact, Democrats who voted against clean energy were more than three times as likely to lose their seats than those who voted for it:

— Out of the 211 Democrats who voted for ACES, only 41 either lost or retired and saw their seats go Republican. Thus 81 percent of Democrats voting for the climate bill won their races.

– Of the 44 Democrats who voted against ACES, 28 lost, retired and lost the seat to Republicans, or in the case of Parker Griffith, flipped parties and lost the Republican primary. That means 64 percent of Democrats voting against the climate bill lost their seat.

– Of the eight Republicans who voted for the bill, only one was punished by the voters — Rep. Mike Castle (DE-AL), who lost his U.S. Senate primary to eventual loser Christine O’Donnell. Reps. Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), Dave Reichert (WA-8), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Chris Smith (NJ-4), and Leonard Lance (NJ-7) were re-elected. Rep. Mark Kirk (IL-10) was elected to the U.S. Senate and Rep. John McHugh (NY-23) became Secretary of the Army.

By contrast, the fight against big oil’s Proposition 23 to kill California’s climate legislation buoyed Democrats Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer to victory, helping to activate a broad coalition of progressive voters to come to the polls.

In Texas, we see this exactly.  Of the Democrats who voted for clean energy and action on climate, all were re-elected.  And the two/three who lost, all voted NO on ACES.

RePower America has their own analysis up, emphatically saying “The lesson is clear: Lawmakers did not go down in defeat because they supported a clean energy future.”

And Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones gives the following cogent analysis:

Vulnerable Democrats in red districts didn’t do well, period, and it was for reasons including but not limited to the climate vote. Take a look at Virginia, a good study in the vote. There you had Tom Perriello in Virginia’s fifth district, a progressive in a red area who voted for the bill. He lost his bid for a second term to Republican Robert Hurt by a four-point margin. Environmental groups spent quite a bit his behalf, but he faced a tough race no matter what.

Then there’s 14-term Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who suffered a major upset in the ninth district. His Republican challenger Morgan Griffith beat him 51 percent to 46 percent. Boucher played a major role in shaping the climate and energy bill, pledging to ensure that “the future of coal will be intact.” That included $60 billion in support for the coal industry. Nevertheless, his opponent still cast him as a foe of coal, and political observers are now pegging the vote as the key reason for his loss. “I don’t think there’s any question about it, cap-and-trade was the issue in the campaign,” Andy Wright, a former Boucher chief of staff, told Politico. “If Rick had voted no, he wouldn’t have had a serious contest.”

But then you have Glenn Nye, a Democrat in Virginia’s second district, who voted against Waxman-Markey, as well as health care reform. He lost by a 10-point margin last night. Clearly, distancing himself from Democrats and their policy priorities didn’t help him out.

So, in Virginia, two Yes votes on ACES, lost by 4 points.  A No vote, lost by 10 points.  All signs point to support for climate action being helpful to electoral chances, quite the opposite of the media narrative.

Despite Tea Party and oil industry rhetoric that this was a socialist plot to destroy America and a tax on energy, respectively, voters didn’t see it that way.  Again, from ClimateProgress:

The first poll to ask voters whether energy factored in their decision shows clearly that in 83 battleground districts, energy and climate were NOT a factor in ousting Democrats.  Specific findings, from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner’s poll (1000 voters, conducted Nov 1-2):
  • Members’ support for ACES did not contribute to their defeat. When voters who chose the Republican candidate were asked in an open ended question to name their biggest concern about the Democrat, only 1 percent cited something related to energy or cap and trade. And when offered a list of six arguments Republicans made against Democrats, only 7 percent of voters selected the so-called “cap and trade energy tax.”
  • Despite a strongly Republican leaning electorate, battleground voters trusted the Democrat more than the Republican when it comes to energy. The election night survey shows a battleground electorate that leans Republican by 10 percentage points on partisanship, yet they favored the Democrat on energy by 6 points.
  • A majority supports comprehensive energy reform. When presented with a comprehensive energy plan, battleground voters back the plan by 16 percent.
  • Majority support for EPA regulation of carbon. By a considerable 22 percent margin, battleground voters believe the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Voters want to hold corporations accountable for their pollution. By a huge 41 percent margin, voters believe “we need to hold corporations accountable for their pollution,” rejecting the argument that “we should not impose new regulations that will hurt businesses.”

So here I get a bit wonky, but in political science, when conducting an “experiment”, what you do is offer a hypothesis, then offer the opposite “null hypotheses” and attempt to disprove that.  This is a political science question: Did a vote for the climate bill make it more likely for a member of Congress to lose his/her seat?  Hypothesis Politico, et al, is running with: Yes.  The null hypothesis would be that either a) a vote for climate INCREASED your chance of re-election, or b) it had no effect. Well, we have a really hard time disproving either of those.  Data is mixed.  So, while it’s hard to say that either of those null hypotheses are exactly true, either, we can certainly reject the idea that voting YES on climate was bad, either for Democrats or Republicans.

To offer a different political science hypothesis, let me offer this: nearly every race that was won or lost Tuesday can be easily explain using two measurements: Partisan Voter index, or PVI, and the amount of outside money targeting them.  This first point is born out by the stats nerds at Scienceblogs, showing that a vote on climate was not correlated to re-election chances, but PVI was much more closely correlated to probability of loss.

Eye-popping analysis from our DC office’s CongressWatch shows just how much money was spent in these races.  More than climate, this may be the real story of the midterms.  But this much is clear: Democrats lost their seats in districts where they were traditionally more Republican dominated and where gobs of corporate cash funneled through shadowy stealth PACs was spent to unseat them PERIOD.  Tying it to a specific vote on a specific bill is just not an accurate description of what happened, especially not this bill.

The long and short of the matter is – don’t believe the hype.  If someone says that a vote in favor of climate action and clean energy is political suicide, it is just not true. In fact, if anything, voters rewarded the vast majority of those who voted for climate action, both Republicans and Democrats, by re-electing them and, in at least one case, (Mark Kirk of IL) elevating them from the House to the Senate.  And those who voted against climate action and clean energy fared far, far worse.