Preface : Partisan Environmental
Priorities
Issue Overview
Environmental politics do not take place on just the policy level; a more rudi-
mentary level is at play in how policy-makers present the importance and types of
environmental issues to their constituents. Contemporary Republican and Demo-
crat lawmakers prioritize different facets of environmental policy and use different
terms and phrases to relate their priorities. Empirically examining the way policy-
makers refer to issues of concern provides insight into their own frame of reference
when they’re supporting or opposing legislation.
As online communications technology has advanced, nearly all members of Con-
gress make use of electronic newsletters (e-newsletters) to connect with constitu-
ents). Direct Congress-to-constituent communications offer a nonmediated look at
what issues legislators think are of interest to their constituents, and the newsletters
can be pooled collectively to identify partisan trends on a variety of policy topics.1
This form of media is accessible to all members, is used by over 95 percent of cur-
rent legislators, and provides a virtually blank slate on which legislators can write
about whatever issues they please. This final benefit of freedom in focus makes
e-newsletters an ideal place to search for competing priorities between parties.
Partisan Priorities
While members of Congress are likely to hold policy opinions on each of the topics
presented in this book, they do not dedicate the same amount of time and focus
to each pressing environmental issue. As an introduction to some of the other top-
ics of this series to be covered in depth, I first present the relative frequencies of
each of the topics for Democrats and Republicans. Table 1 shows the top 10 most
communicated environmental topics for Republicans and Democrats, as well as
1 The
data containing every message sent by federal U.S legislators to constituents come
from DCinbox. DCinbox is a project started in 2009 that collects every official e-newsletter
sent by representatives and senators. These are taxpayer-funded communications that are
permitted by the House and Senate as a way for members of Congress to connect with their
constituents in order to relay the work of each individual congressperson. The database
contains more than 80,000 e-newsletters and is available for interested readers at https://
dcinbox.herokuapp.com/.
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