Government and International Relations Honors Papers

Document Type

Honors Paper


Mara Suttman-Lee

Publication Date



This study explores how organizations within the climate change movement accrue political power and impact federal politics in the United States. It uses twelve semi-structured open-ended interviews with national climate activists at eight organizations to map shifts within the movement. These interviews are paired with additional qualitative analysis of legislative, media, and political rhetoric to evaluate the impact of the movement on American politics. The climate movement’s impacts (establishing the Green New Deal as a legitimate policy vision, shifting the Democratic Party to the left on climate, and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act) were made possible by a shift in the movement’s identity and strategy. I offer a hybrid model for mapping social movement impacts to both social movement theory and American Political Development by combining concepts from social movement spillover, collective identity, political process, and momentum theory. These theoretical contributions and empirical findings illustrate new understandings of how to generate grassroots political power in a democracy dominated by anti-majoritarian institutions.

Available for download on Monday, May 22, 2023



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.