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Rural Voters on Eastern Seaboard See Benefits of Regional Transportation Improvements, Says New Polling Data Commissioned by The Nature Conservancy

Polling publicly released today from The Nature Conservancy done by the bipartisan pollster team of New Bridge Strategy and Fairbank, Maslin, Maulllin, Metz & Associates shows that three quarters of small town and rural voters in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states support the creation of a state clean transportation fund. This is significant as transportation improvements and funding are being considered by the jurisdictions participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). TCI is an effort by policymakers from 12 eastern states and the District of Columbia to design a region-wide policy that would both reduce carbon emissions from transportation and provide improved efficiency of and access to transportation systems.

The polling indicates that support among rural and small-town voters for the proposal is broad-based and widespread, encompassing men and women, white voters and voters of color, democrats, independents and republicans, and both young and old voters.

Rural and small-town voters are considered critical to making any proposal of this nature politically viable. Transportation is an area in which rural areas and small towns are often neglected, and the poll revealed residents feel that keenly. Eighty three percent of rural and small-town voters say that they “have no choice but to drive as much as they do” and eighty-one percent say rural and small town areas often do not get their fair share of transportation funding.

Rural voters across party lines are in support of investing in better transportation options. Seventy five percent of these rural voters support the creation of a clean transportation fund that would “would invest in transportation choices that reduce pollution, including expanding public transportation, creating incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles, and safe ways for people to walk and bike, including in small towns and rural areas of the state.” That support included 63 percent of voters identifying as Republicans, and 61 percent of voters identifying as conservative.

Moreover, the oft-cited idea that voters only want transportation improvements if they don’t have to pay for them isn’t borne out by the polling data. Roughly 67 percent of voters across the regions surveyed say would be willing to pay a monthly amount to fund clean transportation choices in their state, with just under a third willing to pay $20 or more per month. This willingness to pay for improvements stayed consistent across income levels, and included a majority of Republicans and conservatives.

We learned that rural voters want better ways to get to their jobs, go to school, and do their shopping. They want to see their elderly and disabled neighbors have more accessibility so they can live more independently.

Climate and Energy Policy Manager for TNC in the Northeast U.S.

“We were very interested to see how voters in the region, but particularly rural voters, felt about their transportation choices, and what they wanted for their future,” said Sarah Jackson, Climate and Energy Policy Manager for the Northeast for The Nature Conservancy. “We learned that rural voters want better ways to get to their jobs, go to school, and do their shopping. They want to see their elderly and disabled neighbors have more accessibility so they can live more independently. They want roads to be safe for everyone who uses them, including people who are walking and using bicycles. And of course, they want cleaner air.”

“All of these things are possible with the right policies that both reduce pollution and encourage transportation investment. Transportation improvements go hand in hand with economic development and job opportunity, something rural communities badly need. We’re looking forward to seeing the work that’s already been done on TCI as it is utilized to formulate a concrete proposal. This region has a track record of being able to work together to implement solutions – we want to keep that going.”

New Bridge and FM3 Research conducted this research as mixed-mode survey among 1,000+ small town and rural residents across 12 states participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Interviews were conducted September 14-23, 2019 on landline, cell phone, and online. A more detailed set of results can be viewed here

Responses from TCI States:

“These poll results show that rural communities value investments in clean transportation,” said Kate Dempsey, state director of TNC in Maine. “In Maine, transportation is at once the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and integral to our rural economy, so we should seek policy solutions that meet Maine’s emissions reduction goals while supporting rural communities.”

"Massachusetts voters want clean transportation outcomes that improve their quality of life and reduce climate change impacts,” said Wayne Klockner state director of the TNC in Massachusetts “We appreciate the leadership of Governor Baker in supporting solutions for our communities in the Transportation and Climate Initiative.”

“With the transportation sector accounting for almost half of New Jersey's greenhouse gas emissions, a well thought out, equitable program to reduce transportation emissions while improving mobility is urgently needed,” said Barbara Brummer, state director of TNC in New Jersey.

“Building a clean transportation system that serves all Rhode Islanders will be an essential component of the state’s work to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction targets. This poll shows once again that Rhode Islanders are ready to put their money into the necessary investments. 91% of Rhode Island voters support creating a clean transportation fund that would reduce pollution with solutions like public transportation, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, and safe ways for people to walk and bike” said John Torgan, state director of TNC in Rhode Island.

“Pollution from transportation accounts for the largest portion of climate-changing carbon emissions in the Northeast,” said Heather Furman, state director of TNC in Vermont. “By reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our region, we can safeguard public health, enhance communities, and improve our economic outlook. Delivering on cleaner, more efficient, and accessible transportation options that benefit all communities, especially those underserved by affordable transportation, is the promise of the Transportation Climate Initiative. The Nature Conservancy is committed to supporting sound science and public engagement to advance this 12 state initiative. Together, and with strong investments in Vermont’s rural communities, we can make a meaningful contribution to slowing the emissions that contribute to our changing climate.” 

“Transportation is the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in Virginia,” said Locke Ogens, state director of TNC in Virginia.  “With a well-designed, equitable clean transportation fund, Virginians would have better mobility options while lowering carbon emissions.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.