Last Tuesday's might have been the most closely watched in a generation. What do the results mean for the outdoor industry?

Varying levels of excitement, hope, and anxiety reached fever pitch last week as Americans went to the polls in record numbers for what many considered to be an extremely consequential election. With the fate of public lands, climate change action, tariffs, and more in the balance, the outdoor industry was highly engaged in the run-up to the vote: endorsing candidates, encouraging voter registration, and especially, sharing Outdoor Industry Association’s #VoteTheOutdoors campaign with their customers. 

More than 300 outdoor brands helped spread OIA’s message, reaching more than 12 million people by Election Day and garnering more than 26 million impressions. Was our voice heard? What do the results mean for the future of the industry? We consulted the experts to find out.

Did we #VoteTheOutdoors?

The Outdoor Industry Association’s endorsements ended up with an enviable record. Of the 23 representatives the organization supported on its “#VoteTheOutdoors” ticket (eight Republicans and 15 Democrats), 20 won office or retained their seats. And on five of the six state or local ballot initiatives OIA took a stance on, voters agreed with the industry’s position.

“In the midterms overall, I think it’s good to see the Democrats restore some balance of power in Washington, [by taking] the House” said Amy Roberts, executive director of OIA. “We have really tried to make recreation bipartisan, and so we endorsed moderate Republicans who have been supportive of issues like recreation and climate change. Unfortunately, those are the Republicans that get targeted, and those were the seats that were lost. Overall, I still think the nation is challenged by the polarization that’s occurring in the two parties. We don’t want recreation to become either a Democratic or Republican issue.”

The Next Few Months

Outdoor Industry Association’s first priority in the upcoming lame-duck session is to lobby for permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Amy Roberts said. LWCF expired on September 30 (see more on page 8), but the outlook is good: There has been bipartisan support for such a bill in relevant House and Senate committees, Roberts said.

OIA will also work with The Conservation Alliance and Outdoor Alliance to lobby for other conservation, recreation, and wilderness bills, including funding for national parks, that have a good shot of crossing the finish line before the end of the year. John Sterling, executive director of The Conservation Alliance, said Friday that there might be an initiative to roll a dozen or so such bills into one package, which could see a vote before the end of the year.

What to Expect from a Democratic House

During Thursday’s OIA “Election 2018: The Aftermath” panel, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette’s District Director Tom Kelly addressed what many have wondered aloud since Democrats took the House on Tuesday: Will President Trump be investigated? Yes, he said, oversight of the executive branch has been lacking, and Democrats plan to make up for lost time. But he assured that Dems won’t lose sight of the actual issues. The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare, and stagnating wages will be priorities for them, he said.

Rep. DeGette also plans to reintroduce her Wilderness Act bill in the first six months of the new session, which would provide wilderness protection for about 740,000 acres of land in Colorado. Lands she’s proposing to protect include areas around the Sewemup Mesa along the Dolores River and the Platte River Wilderness. She has sought wilderness protection for these parcels of land since 1999. 

Jared Polis, Friend of the Industry, Will Lead Colorado

At Outdoor Retailer, Jared Polis gave his first public address as governor-elect on Thursday. Attendees of the OIA panel discussion cheered for the OIA-endorsed incoming Colorado governor, who was introduced as a longtime friend and supporter of the outdoor industry. Polis reaffirmed his support for public lands issues in Colorado, called out Utah for its lack of similar support, and promised to stand up against policies that threaten outdoor recreation.

“We don’t have to go very far to see the impact of bad public lands policy,” Polis said. “Right next door in Utah, we’ve seen, and are seeing, the consequences when local leaders don’t stand up for public lands. Here in Colorado, I will always stand up against any of those misguided policies that threaten our public lands.” The crowd immediately launched into cheers and applause.

Tariff Troubles

In spite of wins during the midterms, high tariffs remain a concern for OIA. Taxes on ski jackets and pants, for example, are around 28 percent, Roberts said, and Gore-Tex footwear is at 38 percent.

“That raises the cost of goods and shows up in the price to the consumer,” Roberts said. Some brands are already feeling the impacts of an additional 10 percent tariff that’s been imposed on goods imported from China, and Roberts said the industry is concerned about the strong possibility that the administration may impose a 25 percent tariff on all goods coming in from China.

“With the election and the House flipping, there is an opportunity for additional oversight in the House on the President’s trade agenda,” said Rich Harper, manager of international trade for OIA. The Trump administration holds the keys to tariff decisions, but Harper said having industry advocates in the House will provide an opportunity for more hearings about the tariffs and tougher questions about the President’s end goal.

The key thing to watch, Harper said, will be the G-20 Summit at the end of this month, when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Brand Lessons Learned

An overwhelming percentage of voters want to see companies take stances in the political realm, said Andrew Baumann, senior VP of Global Strategy Group, who also spoke at OIA’s panel on Thursday. Baumann’s company conducts polling for Democratic candidates. He said consumers want to see companies take a stand on controversial issues, with environmental issues being the most important. “Even Republican voters were OK with brands taking stances against President Trump if it was for the benefit of the customer or their communities,” Baumann said.

“I think what Patagonia did around Bears Ears is the best example of a brand really understanding its customer base, its values, and its existing users of the brand,” Baumann said.

If you want to engage more conservative customers without alienating them or losing their trust, word choice is key. Lori Weigel, partner at Public Opinion Strategies, which conducts polling for Republican candidates, said the words “environmentalist,” “environmental,” and “climate change” can turn off some Republican voters quickly.

“The language that we use has a big impact,” she said during the panel. “There are certain words—climate change, for example—that can provoke a very, very partisan reaction. We see some of the biggest divides in all of our data on climate change. But yet, if you say, ‘Hey, do you want to reduce carbon pollution by having more solar and wind?,’ you’ll get massive support among Republican voters, including Republican primary voters.”

Likewise “conservation” and “lands issues” go a lot further with consumers than “environmental” issues, Weigel said. 

This story appears in Day 4 of The Daily at Outdoor Retailer.

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