Comparing scores across state lines: it’s not apples to apples

Climate Cabinet Scores should be considered within the context of each individual state.
In this blog, we explain why -- and then invite you to dive into the data!

The Climate Cabinet Scorecard is the first ever national tool to hold state legislators accountable for their votes on important climate legislation.  At a glance, this tool gives you the power to see how over 3,300 state legislators in 25 U.S. states voted on more than 1,000 critical climate and environmental bills -- assigning each legislator a score from 0 to 100 based on their voting record. (You can read more about our methodology in this blog post and in the full report.)

This massive dataset is an invitation for data analysts, politicos, and activists alike to dig into the numbers, analyze trends, and identify opportunities for outsized impact. 

As you begin exploring, it’s important to consider each set of scores within the context of that particular state. Because of the wide variation in bill ambition in states across the US, comparing scores across state lines isn’t necessarily apples to apples. 

Take two southern states, Virginia and Georgia: The average Climate Cabinet Score for Georgia legislators is 76 and the minimum score is 40. In Virginia, legislators’ average score is 70 and the minimum is 13.5. It would be incorrect to assume that Georgia legislators are “stronger climate champions” than Virginia legislators, when in fact Virginia has passed much stronger climate policy than Georgia even considered. Legislators voted on different bills, so scores should only be considered within the context of a given state:

  • Virginia climate wins: Since 2019, Virginia has passed a 100% Renewable Energy Standard, adopted Clean Cars standards, joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and created an Office of Environmental Justice. 
  • Georgia climate wins: Georgia has also made some incremental progress, but with much lower ambition: in 2019, Georgia passed legislation to extend the maximum allowable length of solar contracts, a good but smaller step forward.

Legislators voted on different bills, so scores should only be considered within the context of a given state.

Image credit: Will Jarrett. Used with permission.

It may be tempting to compare the total number of scores coming at 0 and 100 across states, but this is also unwise. In Texas, for example, no legislators received a score of 0 whereas in Florida, 91 legislators did. This doesn’t mean that the Florida legislators are necessarily “worse” -- it just means the bills voted on were different, and scores should be considered within the context of each state.

  • Texas climate fights: In Texas, legislators were scored on some important votes that were not necessarily controversial, including votes on bills to fund state parks and study green stormwater infrastructure for climate resilience. Non-controversial bills like this boosted scores, even as Texas legislators considered truly regressive bills giving handouts to oil and gas, and taking power away from cities. 
  • Florida climate fights: In Florida, local groups decided not to score unanimous votes like the ones considered in Texas. Florida legislators also considered many pre-emption bills that will make it harder for cities to usher in the clean energy transition.

Thus, while many Florida legislators received scores of “0” and no Texas legislators received scores of “0,” legislators in both states considered and passed legislation that will lock us into a polluting economy. 

Image credit: Will Jarrett. Used with permission.

As another example: Wisconsin Democrats have scores ranging from 92-100; whereas Democrats in neighboring Minnesota have scores ranging from 56-100. Are the Wisconsin Democrats overwhelmingly better on climate? Not necessarily. In Wisconsin, none of the ambitious climate bills put forth ever made it to the floor for a vote, so it’s impossible to say how Democrats would have voted on more ambitious legislation.  For example:

  • Wisconsin climate fights: In Wisconsin, legislators voted on Republican attempts to remove baseline environmental protections, like removing air quality monitoring stations and allowing polluters to undermine science in groundwater standards. Democrats almost unanimously opposed these efforts. No ambitious climate bills made it to the floor for a vote - and many climate issues came down to spending allocation through the state budget, which was not scored.
  • Minnesota climate fights: By contrast, Minnesota legislators were involved in some big fights, like working to both adopt and defend Clean Car Standards, and working to enact 100% renewable energy legislation.  

Wisconsin Democrats were largely voting in a block to oppose Republicans, and didn’t take any ambitious climate votes. Minnesota Democrats were voting on both progressive and regressive climate legislation, and their scores show more variation. 

Image credit: Will Jarrett. Used with permission.

State-specific context is always important, and legislative scores should always be interpreted within the context of each state’s overarching climate ambition and political context. Without considering the types of bills voted on, average scores cannot be compared across state lines; nor can minimum and maximum scores.

With that -- have fun exploring! 

We hope you’ll use the Climate Cabinet Scorecard to hold your legislators accountable to their climate voting records and ensure they feel the heat of the climate movement. We need accountability and action now. 

All images in this blog were created by Will Jarrett.
You can explore his full set of interactive Climate Cabinet Score data visualizations here:

You can read the full Climate Cabinet Scorecard report here.