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Communicating Climate Policy in Purple States with Janet Napolitano

By Danielle Elliott and Isabel Lyndon

When it comes to crafting policy solutions to climate change, government messaging often depends on the ideological leanings of the electoral base. When an elected government official’s politics align with the politics of the majority of the constituent base, like it does in “red” and “blue” states, political support is easier to find. But what about in purple states where there are similar levels of Democratic and Republican support? For government leaders in purple states, writing policy that appeals to everyone can be difficult. 

Two-term Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano found a solution. Once a Republican stronghold, Arizona began to trend purple during Napolitano’s time in office from 2003-09. To accommodate the mixed political constituency, Napolitano was careful to use particular vocabulary to describe her climate-related solutions in order to achieve bipartisan support. 

Napolitano focused on ideals  such as “climate safety” and “preserving the environment,” rather than risks, and promoted renewable energy in the sun-soaked state by harnessing the momentum of the nascent solar power industry. Concentrating on amplifying the existing resources of the state, rather than spotlighting its deficiencies, allowed for more positive messaging about  creating opportunities for economic growth and industry leadership. While not every purple state has renewable energy resources at their disposal, selecting the right words to describe policy solutions that encourage shifts in constituent behavior can make an impact on the longevity of the solution’s success. 

Resources for communicating climate policy more effectively: