Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is Energy Really an Issue in the Primaries?

Energy and environmental policy is obviously very important to those of us taking Dr. Webber's course, but while public awareness is increasing, I still feel like energy and the environment are on the backburner in these primary elections. Many other blog posts highlight the energy and environmental policies contained on candidates' websites. While this information is easily accessible for those who are interested, is it really what people are talking about when discussing the presidential primaries?

I've felt for a while that the short answer is "No," simply based on how often I notice energy related issues pop up in primary news or debates. To test this hypothesis, I went to the websites of 5 major news outlets (CBS, USA Today, Fox, MSNBC, CNN), searched news articles for "primary" and "policy," and found 5-10 recent (Feb.-Mar.) articles from each site that deal directly with the primaries (43 articles total). To get a rough estimate of how often energy and the environment is in the news relative to other major issues, I counted the frequency of the words "energy," "climate," "environment," "security (national, not social)," and "economy" in each article. I am aware that the news does not conclusively indicate the priorities of the American people, but the media has financial incentive to give the people what they want, so I figure this would make a good litmus test.

Total frequency of each word:
Energy - 11
Climate - 1
Environment - 31
Security - 19
Economy - 82

As could be expected, the economy is a clear winner; it had broad mention over many articles. Environment appears to do a good job making the news; however, all but 3 of these instances came from articles dealing with the NAFTA comments Clinton and Obama made in the Ohio debate indicating a desire to hold Canada and Mexico to stronger environmental restrictions on imports. So the primary reason for mentioning the environment was to promote fair trade and the protection of American industry rather than to focus on environmental policy. Also worth noting is that 9 of the 11 instances of "energy" were contained in just 2 articles, and the word "climate" only showed up once!

We could argue over the validity of my methodology or the quality of my analysis, but I think that this shows some good evidence that energy and the environment is, at best, a second rate issue in this primary election. At the Obama energy panel discussion last week, Dr. Kammen emphasized that in order for major changes in U.S. energy policy to occur, the public must strongly indicate within the first 100 days of the new presidency that we are voting based on energy and environmental issues and that dealing with related challenges is of the highest importance.

I think it's clear that we have work to do.

1 comment:

David Wogan said...

Hey I know the people in that one photo...