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Biden Climate AP-24113688152861
President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act led to a massive investment in green-energy programs. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Biden’s Record Is Full of Climate Wins — So Why Don’t Voters Know It?

Environmental groups are making a concerted effort to educate voters about President Joe Biden’s climate policies ahead of the election.

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act led to a massive investment in green-energy programs. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Beth Miller is the kind of environmentally conscious voter who, on paper, should be most vocally supportive of President Joe Biden’s efforts to reduce America’s carbon footprint.

But months from the election, Miller said she had heard next to nothing about what Biden had done to combat climate change. And what little she had heard hadn’t impressed her.

“He’s been as centrist as he can be on that issue,” said Miller, who thought Biden was more worried about angering red-state voters than passing ambitious climate change legislation. Asked if she knew about any of Biden’s climate priorities, she demurred.

“I’m just not aware of any of it at all,” she said.

Minutes before, while talking to canvassers with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters outside her home, she learned that the solar panels she planned to install at her home later this year would give a big tax break thanks to a federal investment championed by the president. It didn’t do much to sway her opinion.

Progressive voters like Miller are the subject of an intense internal debate among environmental activists and political strategists — and the target of a burgeoning, well-funded campaign that aims to change their minds before November.

Since taking office, Biden has undertaken a history-making effort to combat climate change, enacting policies that could transform the country’s energy economy and give it a chance to stave off the worst effects of a warming world, according to these advocates. No previous president has come close to doing more, they say.

And yet, nobody — not even the party’s most engaged and loyal supporters — seems to know about it, much less use it to argue he deserves reelection.

“Kennedy had the missile gap, and now Biden has the climate change information gap,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of his party’s leading climate change advocates.

Inslee said his former 2020 primary opponent deserves as much credit for fighting climate change as former President Lyndon B. Johnson receives for expanding civil rights. That he isn’t remotely seen that way, even among Democrats, is a political problem — but also an opportunity, he said.

“The bad news is people do not largely know how multifaceted, robust and dynamic climate actions are,” Inslee said. “The good news is that it shows you have a lot of room for growth over the next several months.”

Well-funded environmental advocacy groups are in the midst of a campaign to close the information gap on Biden’s climate record by targeting Democratic voters. They think that if they do so correctly, Biden could get a small but meaningful lift from a base of voters otherwise ambivalent about his presidency — those who are almost certain to vote for him in November but decidedly less sure to donate to or volunteer for his campaign. On the margins, they hope it can help lift a part of the base discouraged by the war in Gaza.

“If we thought this was going to be a blowout campaign, we might have made different resource decisions,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, a group preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to help Biden. “But it’s very clear that’s not the case. This is gonna go down to the wire. We know this is going to be a close campaign. And so we believe the work we’re doing absolutely will have an impact.”


There’s an old adage in politics that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Bentley Johnson was doing a lot of explaining.

The federal government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters spoke to a group of about 10 rank-and-file climate activists who had gathered one afternoon in May in the environmental group’s Ann Arbor headquarters. The subject was the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden-backed law that invested hundreds of billions of dollars in green-energy programs through a dizzying array of programs and tax rebates that Bentley, aided by a lengthy series of slides, tried to detail over a 90-minute presentation.

He had held a handful of these meetings starting in the spring, gathering local activists and community leaders in hopes that they would take what they’ve learned about the IRA and spread the word about it to other environmentally conscious voters.

“It’s just tough right now in general, I think, to just cut through a lot of different issues and have people focus on this,” Bentley said in an interview after the presentation.

“Good news is commonly overlooked in our society until you find out how terrible the opponent is.”
— Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

A gap always exists between what a president has done and what the electorate knows about. But what frustrates climate advocates is the degree to which nobody — including sometimes even people who work in Democratic politics — seems to know anything Biden has done on the issue. Fighting climate change might be the most significant achievement of the president’s legacy, and there is little conversation about it among liberals.

Even officials at LCV’s state affiliates don’t always know all the details of the president’s climate agenda, Maysmith said.

“You can just be on the phone with somebody and say, ‘Hey, you know the administration just did X, Y or Z.’ And they say, ‘Oh, really? I didn’t know that,’” he said. “Some they know. Some they don’t. But it just hasn’t percolated out at a significant level.”

Why so few know about Biden’s climate change agenda is a matter of debate among Democratic strategists and environmental advocates.

They blame a fractured media environment and a press that is more interested in writing about former President Donald Trump than policy-heavy subjects. And many of the programs and initiatives Biden has funded through the IRA haven’t yet physically materialized or have only just begun to do so.

Other strategists point to political reality. The Biden administration has tried to strike a careful balance between touting its robust efforts to reduce carbon emissions and convincing the public, including swing voters less likely to rate climate change as a top concern, that these efforts will also help them find jobs and overcome the rising cost of living. Even the name of the Inflation Reduction Act — picked in part to win the vote of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — is reflective of that balance, strategists say.

In public, Biden often talks about his climate investments in terms of the jobs they have produced, not about how they can lessen global warming.

“That helps you with swing voters. It helps you with the multitude of states where new plants are being developed and new techs are going online,” said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who has worked in environmental politics for decades. “But more progressive environmental activists, especially younger voters, they don’t see it the same way. They want to see action on climate now — this is their future that is at stake. They want radical, immediate action.”

Talking about jobs, he added, “doesn’t give younger voters and climate activists the same kind of jolt.”


Activists display prints replicating solarcells during a rally to mark Earth Day at Lafayette Square, Washington.
Activists call for climate action during a 2022 rally. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Climate change isn’t the only issue in which there is a large gap between what Biden has done in office and what voters know about. A poll from Politico-Morning Consult in May found that more than half of voters had heard either not much or nothing at all about three of Biden’s most significant legislative achievements: the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the CHIPS and Science Act.

That broad disconnect leads some Democrats, at least privately, to say the problem lies in a deeper problem with communication from the White House and the president himself.

Many progressive voters just struggle to think that the 81-year-old president, whom they perceive as a political moderate, has done as much to combat climate change as he has, these Democrats say.

“It’s because he has been an incredible success as a legislative president, but he has been a tremendous failure as head of state,” said a Democratic official in Michigan who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Rightly or wrongly, you don’t look at Biden and say, ‘I’m proud he’s my president.’ So, I think there’s an emotional distance from him. And that sort of leads into the hellscape of the both-sides media environment that layers on top of that.”

Biden’s climate record doesn’t unite all climate activists. Sunrise Movement, a group that represents young people concerned about climate change, said last month that it was withholding its endorsement of Biden due to unhappiness with the president among its grassroots members. The decision was rooted in part in a more mixed assessment of Biden’s climate record, a spokesperson said.

“Two things are true,” said Stevie O’Hanlon, Sunrise Movement’s communications director. “Joe Biden has accomplished more on climate than any president before and has made really big strides forward to build renewable energy and create green jobs. It’s also true that if you look at the numbers, U.S. oil and gas production has never been higher before.”

“Rightly or wrongly, you don’t look at Biden and say, ‘I’m proud he’s my president.’”
— a Democratic official in Michigan

Biden often talks about record domestic oil and gas production since he became president, attempting to rebut accusations from Republicans that he is crippling those industries and driving up gasoline prices. His administration last year also approved an oil-drilling project, known as the Willow Project, on federal lands in Alaska, a decision that environmentalists say looms large in the minds of many activists.

To earn the support of many Sunrise members, O’Hanlon said Biden needed to take bolder, more easily understood action to combat global warming, like declaring a formal climate emergency.

She acknowledged, however, that issues other than climate change were affecting how Sunrise members saw Biden’s record.

“It’s hard to divorce from the frustration that a lot of our members feel about how Biden is handling the war in Gaza,” she said. “At least the last six or eight months, anything Biden has done on climate change that’s good has not gotten the celebration and breakthrough that it might if we weren’t funding” the war.


Environmental groups like LCV are trying to counter the loss of enthusiasm Biden has suffered among young progressives through education.

Their multipronged campaign is rooted in the belief that if voters know little about Biden’s climate agenda, even informing them of basic facts about it can change their political attitudes. They think even marginal changes in attitude can, in turn, have important effects on the campaign, helping not only Biden’s final vote tally but encouraging Democratic voters to be more enthusiastic about his campaign.

Internal polling from LCV and the environmental advocacy group Climate Power found that a majority of voters, 51%, thought more highly of Biden after learning he was championing investment in renewable energy, compared to 23% who saw him less favorably.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Maysmith said. “It’s not like, suddenly, you snap your fingers. But it helps, especially with people that really care about climate change. It helps to move them along a spectrum in terms of how they feel about the president.”

LCV officials announced earlier this year that it would spend $120 million on the 2024 election, a chunk of which is earmarked to help Biden. Climate Power launched a separate $50 million campaign this month to extoll Biden’s climate agenda partly aimed at Democratic voters.

“It definitely can help with their enthusiasm around Joe Biden,” said Heather Hargreaves, deputy executive director of campaigns for Climate Power. “We saw in polling earlier this year, when we talk about his record and contrast it with his record, Biden goes up with 5 points head-to-head [with Trump].”

Hargreaves was referencing a March internal poll from her group that showed Biden losing by 5 percentage points to Trump in a head-to-head matchup but vaulting to a 5-point lead after voters were told of each candidate’s respective record on climate change. The poll showed especially strong swings in support among independent and younger voters.

Younger voters “want to see action on climate now — this is their future that is at stake. They want radical, immediate action.”
— Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh

Such a swing in support is unlikely to happen in the real world, even if groups like Climate Power could get their entire message across to the public. But it does highlight how helpful it could be to draw a contrast between Trump’s climate record and Biden’s, Democrats say.

“Good news is commonly overlooked in our society until you find out how terrible the opponent is,” Inslee said.

To make these points, activists are doing something similar to the president himself: focusing on jobs created by investments in clean energy, reductions in pollution and the effect that can have on public health, and ways it can help consumers save money on things like solar panels and other renewable energy sources.

And the Biden campaign itself, while focused on a message of job creation and protecting democracy, still plans to talk about climate change in the coming election, according to officials on the campaign.

“Millions of Americans have personally felt the impact of the President’s climate policies — through better paying jobs, lower utility bills, and more,” said Seth Schuster, spokesperson for the campaign. “The campaign will spread that message far and wide, and contrast it with Donald Trump’s promises to cut taxes for oil and gas executives at the expense of the middle class.”

Whether that message will resonate is uncertain.

After the Michigan LCV canvassers spoke with Beth Miller and her husband, Jon, about the potential to save money on solar panels thanks to the IRA, she was still uncertain what to make of Biden’s climate agenda. She told NOTUS she was the most liberal person she knew and was so concerned about climate change that she and her husband planned to drive their car less as a carbon offset to an international flight later this year. But Miller, who works at the nearby University of Michigan, said she had heard much more about his attempts to forgive student loans than about his climate achievements.

Miller and her husband said Biden didn’t seem to talk much about what he had done in office, especially compared to his predecessors like Trump or former President Barack Obama.

The canvasser didn’t seem to change her mind much either: Asked to rate Biden’s climate agenda on a scale of 1 to 10, Miller didn’t spend much time debating the question.

She gave him a 5.

This article has been updated to correct a quote from “oil and gas direction” to “oil and gas production.”

Alex Roarty is a reporter at NOTUS.