From December, 2020

Confluence

Confluence. [kän-flü-ən(t)s]. n. A coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point.

Water is a big deal in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania is a swing state. Am I being to subtle?

More evidence that, in a politically divided nation, water unites

Last month I argued that water ought to be the centerpiece of the Biden Administration’s environmental policy. President-elect Biden has announced climate change as the main pillar of its policy agenda, but the nation is deeply divided on climate, and so lasting progress will be difficult or impossible on greenhouse gasses. Meanwhile, protecting water is one of very few significant areas of public policy where the country is united, not polarized. That gives the president-elect and congressional leaders from both parties an opportunity to build a coalition for significant legislation on water. The idea seems to have struck a chord with many folks*, and it's picked up some momentum. More and more voices joining the call to rally to water policy when the new Administration and 117th Congress take office.

More data!

Encouraged by the response to my last post, I went casting about for more recent data on broad public support for water policy (my Texas A&M data were gathered in 2015). Happily, the 2020 Value of Water survey (VOW) by the U.S. Water Alliance asked about both climate and water. The national poll let respondents express their attitudes on a four point scale from “extremely important/concerned” to “not too important/concerned.”

The results are remarkably consistent with my earlier findings:

N=454. Thin bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Once again, there’s a familiar stark gap between Democrats and Republicans on climate, but virtually no difference on questions about drinking water and water pollution.** And again, respondents who identify as strong Republicans express very little concern for climate change, but very strong concern for both drinking water and water pollution.

City water, country water

More than twenty years of experience and gigabytes of data have also convinced me that water also can unite urban and rural interests for leaders who want to build political bridges. And what do you know? The VOW survey also gathered data on where respondents live:

N=499. Thin bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Once again, we see a significant divide between urban and rural folks on climate, but virtual unanimity on water.*** Strident (and likely futile) efforts by the Biden Administration to push climate initiatives in Congress would only deepen the divide between rural and urban America. But initiatives to deliver safer drinking water and fight water pollution could bring together urban and rural interests.

Art of the possible

Meaningful, enduring public policies require building coalitions across diverse segments of the American public. If the incoming White House and congressional leaders are serious about solving problems, they’ll do well to work on water. People across the political spectrum want safe, great-tasting tap water, and fishable/swimmable rivers, lakes, and oceans. The impact of good water policy is immediate and tangible. Landmark legislative wins are on the table for politicians with the vision and courage to pursue them.

But more than that, progress on water would help heal the nation’s political wounds, and demonstrate to a wary public that the institutions of the Republic can still fulfill the promise of a better life.

 

*I had a nice conversation on KJZZ in Phoenix on this topic.

**These relative partisan gaps remain in regression models that control for age, gender, race, and ethnicity. 

***These relative urban/rural differences remain after controlling for party identification age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

And remember: an awful lot of good water policy is also good climate policy. If you care about the planet more than you care about branding, talk less about CO2 and more about H2O.