The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

How to unite Tea Party and liberal voters in a key 2012 battleground

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Anyone running for office in the heated Presidential and US Congressional races in the state of Florida in 2012 should take notice of a new poll of likely voters in Florida voters released yesterday by Oxfam America, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and National Audubon Society. Eighty-four percent of likely voters […]

Anyone running for office in the heated Presidential and US Congressional races in the state of Florida in 2012 should take notice of a new poll of likely voters in Florida voters released yesterday by Oxfam America, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and National Audubon Society.

Gulf Coast BP Oil Spill May 2010. Photo by Audra Melton/Oxfam America.
Gulf Coast BP Oil Spill May 2010. Photo by Audra Melton/Oxfam America.

Eighty-four percent of likely voters support a bill to use BP oil spill fines for Gulf restoration. The RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act, (S. 1400), a bill co-sponsored by Florida Senators Nelson and Rubio, would dedicate 80 percent of the estimated $5-$21 billion in expected fines for the BP oil spill to restoring the Gulf ecosystem and economy. The House version of the bill, (H.R. 3096), is co-sponsored by nine Florida House members including Rep. Steve Southerland (FL-2), and Jeff Miller (FL-1). The poll showed 75 percent of Florida voters are more likely to support candidates who back the legislation.

Many think Florida’s January 31 winner-take-all Presidential Primary could select the Republican nominee, so GOP Presidential candidates should also take note. Seventy-three percent of Florida Republican Primary goers say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the RESTORE Act.

This support holds across party affiliation and ideology from Tea Party supporters to liberals, who say said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports such a bill. These voters overwhelmingly favor using BP fines to invest in local ecosystems and communities over paying down the deficit by a margin of 80%-12% (Tea Party) and 86%-10% (Liberals)!

I’ve seen firsthand how this issue unites residents of all political stripes in spill impacted communities. A few months back, I spoke at an event about an hour west down interstate 1-10 from Florida’s hardest hit areas, in a packed hall in Tillman’s Corner, Alabama. Oxfam and local leaders brought together a diverse audience to talk about community needs and the debate around the RESTORE Act including fishermen, pastors, business owners, conservationists, and conservative activists. At its conclusion, the Christian Coalition of Alabama’s Dr. Randy Brinson said he was amazed at the unanimous support for bringing back the BP fines to Gulf communities and how this issue brought together leaders of local Tea Party affiliates to progressive environmental groups, folks who usually spend time in public spaces at each other’s throats. The polling in Florida reinforces the uniting force of this common sense legislation.

Even in areas without a coastline, like in the Orlando area, including the district of US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman John Mica, whose committee held a hearing last week on the RESTORE Act, 74% of voters favor investing in coastal restoration over 14% for paying down the deficit.

We’ve seen elections literally hang on Florida voters, a state that after all taught us about the hanging chad. In each of the last four Presidential elections, the winner of the state’s 27 electoral votes (now 29 after the recent Census) went on to the White House. In six of the last seven elections where Florida has voted for a U.S. Senator, the winner’s party ended up gaining seats in the upper chamber.

Bottom line, Florida matters.

Florida voters universally (98%) make the connection between a healthy ecosystem and strong local economies. Recent reports, including from Oxfam and the Center for American Progress and Duke University, show ecosystem restoration can drive job creation, providing good paying new economic opportunities for commercial fishermen and underemployed workers reeling from the impacts of the BP oil disaster.

Fighting to get the RESTORE Act passed will take greater support from elected officials, in FL, the Gulf Coast, and beyond. No matter where you are from, you can support the RESTORE Act by tweeting the following:

@SenatorReid & @McConnellPress to pass #RESTOREact & dedicate #oilspill fines to Gulf restoration! Via @oxfamamerica

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