A few months back, Benenson Strategy Group and GS Strategy Group (a Democratic and a Republican firm working together) conducted a survey of young Americans for the League of Conservation Voters, to gauge attitudes about climate change, understanding of the problem, and readiness for leadership and policy solutions.
The finding: Young voters of both parties want to see action on climate change and will support leaders willing to take steps to address that threat.
Yep. A hefty majority of voters 18 to 35 understand the threat of climate change and already see the harmful effects of it, or expect to in their lifetime (65 percent). A full two-thirds say climate change needs to be addressed, while just 27 percent say climate change is a natural event that humans can’t affect, and a meager 3 percent deny it’s happening.
These numbers are slightly stronger, but not wildly different from the general population (i.e. surveys that include all us old people), though the share who flat out deny can be as high as a quarter in some general population polls.
What’s most encouraging is young Americans’ eagerness for leadership and rejection of the denial game.
A full 80 percent support the president taking action to address climate change (compared to 65 percent of Americans of all ages). Among those favorable to Obama, nearly all support him taking action. But even among the minority who are unfavorable to Obama, 56 percent support his proposed climate change actions and just 38 percent oppose.
There also appears to be a willingness to punish elected representatives who stand in the way of proposed solutions and to support those who back plans like Obama’s.
- 79 percent say they are more likely to vote for someone who supported these steps.
- 73 percent say they are less likely to vote for someone who opposed these steps.
- Notably, over half of young Republican voters (52 percent) would be less likely to vote for someone who opposed the president’s plan.
- Just 34 percent would be more likely to vote for someone who opposed the plan.
These numbers are in stark relief to some recent polling of the general American public, including one that found Democrats were most likely to support Obama’s climate solutions, with 63 percent saying they strongly or somewhat approved of his work on the issue, compared with 27 percent of independents and just 6 percent of Republicans.
And it appears that leaders who deny the problem of climate change are on thin ice with young voters on more than just a policy front. For voters under 35, denying climate change signals a much broader failure of values and leadership.
Climate Deniers = “Ignorant” and “Out-of-Touch”
When asked which of the following words they’d use to describe a climate change denier, 37 percent said ignorant and 29 percent said out-of-touch (7 percent said crazy). On the pro-denier side, only 12 percent said independent, 8 percent commonsense, and 3 percent thoughtful.
More striking, 74 percent of young independents and 53 percent of young Republicans characterized deniers as ignorant, out-of-touch, or crazy.
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It is not surprising then that a climate change denier “faces stiff headwinds with young voters,” with 68 percent overall saying they would be less likely to vote for a climate change denier. Among independents, 66 percent would be less likely to vote for a denier. And even among Republicans, nearly half—47 percent—say they would be less likely to vote for a denier.
Young Voters Reject Environment vs. Economy Frame
Arguments from those who oppose action also fall flat with young voters, who are far more likely to say we have a moral obligation to act than to believe action is too expensive and unnecessary.
Indeed, by 60 percent compared to 30 percent, young Americans respond more favorably to messages about the danger of climate impacts and our moral obligation to leave behind a planet that’s not polluted or damaged than they do to arguments that the time isn’t right for climate policies that would hurt the economy and kill jobs. (The split was more like 55 to 43 when similar messages were presented to the general population.)
Young Americans don’t buy into the typical opposition arguments about “burdensome regulations and new energy taxes when millions of Americans are out of work and the cost of gas and groceries continues to rise” or how climate solutions would “shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs, and raise electricity bills for struggling families.”
Similarly, young voters reject the false choice that those standing in the way of solutions have constructed between the environment and the economy. Only 26 percent bought the argument that action on climate change would kill jobs (due to regulations and higher energy costs)—65 percent said they thought taking action on climate change would create jobs with investments in clean energy and technology development. That’s a 40-point margin.
With all these encouraging findings, a few grains of salt. Other recent polls indicate that measures to curb climate change pollution aren’t necessarily a slam dunk, even with the youngest Americans. In one example, as of April, support for the Keystone XL pipeline project was pretty strong among every segment of the American population except “liberals.” Notably, Americans aged 18 to 29 favor the project 60 to 27 percent! (And even “liberals” were fairly well split: 42 percent in favor and 48 opposed).
So, not a slam dunk—but you knew that. Still, all in all, on climate solutions, the kids are alright.