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Presidential politics and public attitudes

Posted by Sean Stevens at Feb 14, 2012 10:05 AM |
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Candidates might think they're speaking to the base, but be careful when you dis public lands in the West.

Presidential politics and public attitudes

The results of the "State of the Rockies" survey of Western attitudes are clear - public lands are cherished.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney might be forgiven for not quite grasping the role that public lands play in Western life and politics. That is, if not for the fact that he headed the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and should know better.

Seems he actually learned the wrong lesson from his time spent west of the 100th meridian.

In an interview with a Nevada newspaper, Romney tackled the subject of western public lands. See his quote after the jump.


I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada.  And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there.  What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” — which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves — “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.”  I mean, it drove the people nuts.  Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.

So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable.

Romney manages to hit upon a few keywords that Tea Partiers are likely to enjoy. We all know "extreme environmentalists" are not to be trusted. And don't get me started if the federal government tells me "we're taking this" when it comes to my land!

Unfortunately for Romney, it's a very small portion of the population that those words resonate with. According to recent polling conducted by Colorado College for their "State of the Rockies" report, western attitudes towards public lands are clear - they love them.

Some key findings from the report:

  • While 65 percent of Westerners identify themselves as "conservationists," just 29 percent affiliated themselves with the Tea Party movement.
  • In 2009, 74 percent of those surveyed said land protection and conservation can go hand-in-hand with a strong economy. Amazingly, by 2012, that percent had risen to 78 percent.
  • Among those respondents in this year's survey who identified themselves as Republicans, 76 percent were of the opinion that natural resources can be protected without harming economic conditions, an opinion shared by 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Tea Partiers!

The lesson for Romney and other future candidates could be this: you may not know what public lands are for, but voters do - and they love them.

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