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It's often assumed that environmentalism and support for labor are both central elements of modern liberalism. Certainly the far left, after the heated "red-green" battles of the later 20th century and the rise of the environmental justice movement, has more or less agreed that the two go together (if for no other reason than that "exploitation of workers" and "exploitation of nature" together provide more ammunition to use against capitalism). But in mainstream politics, you often see a more conflictual story, with environmentalism seen as a luxury of the well-off liberals. Al Gore wrestled with the issue in the 2000 race. I took notice of it again as the Democratic primary wound down, as John Edwards framed himself as being the champion of the classic labor agenda in contrast to John Kerry, who happened to be the most environmentalist of the candidates with a serious shot at winning. With Kerry's plan for raising fuel efficiency taking heat from auto workers, I thought it would be interesting to see how connected labor and environmental issues were in today's political climate.

I fired up Excel and grabbed rankings of U.S. Senators from last year. I used the optimal classification list as a measure of partisanship -- how close individuals stuck to the party line (the optimal classification procedure sorts Senators by their votes without any consideration of the content of the bills, just on who votes together). The League of Conservation Voters scorecard gave me a measure of how environmentally-friendly each Senator has been in practice. And I took the AFL-CIO rankings (pdf) as a measure of support for a classically pro-labor agenda.

The LCV scores correlate in a general way with partisanship, with clusters of Senators who are strong Democrats and strong environmentalists, and who are strong Republicans and poor environmentalists. In between, however, there is a fair amount of variation, with a noticeable number of people like Robert Byrd and John McCain who are very partisan but buck the party on environmental issues.

Support for labor, on the other hand, shows an extremely strong correlation with party loyalty.

Now let's put them together:

I found this chart striking. There's almost no correlation between environmentalism and support for labor. It seems the conflict between the two is alive and well in the U.S. Senate.


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