As the United States works through the nomination process for its next president, opinion polls are tracking how voters prioritize climate change when casting their ballots. Right now national US climate change law and policy rests primarily on federal executive action (as chronicled in President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan and this 2015 progress report on it). With the recent death of US Supreme Court Justice Scalia, the President’s role in choosing justices with lifelong tenure stands out even more as a campaign issue. It’s an understatement to say that the 2016 election to choose Obama’s successor is particularly important to national and international climate change action.
That’s why this poll caught my eye. Conducted by Ipsos from January 4–7, 2016 on behalf of Rock the Vote and USA Today, it focused exclusively on millennials — those voters aged 18 to 34 years old, who now make up the largest demographic group in the US. Millenials see clean energy as an important voting issue. 81% agree that the US should transition to clean energy by 2030 and only 43% agree that the country should continue developing fossil fuels. The poll also reports that millennial voters cite the economy (35%) and education (28%) as their top priorities, and view themselves as both fiscal moderates and social liberals. Although the poll doesn’t completely connect the dots, this data would suggest that millennial voters agree with the Obama Administration’s framing of the Paris Agreement pledges as good for the economy and for the environment.
Despite their numbers, relying on millennials as a voting force poses risks. The poll diplomatically describes millennials as having a “complicated orientation towards voting.” First, only a few say they are likely to vote in the primaries and only 60% say they are likely to vote in the November general election. Second, while 63% of millennials polled report having voted before in a presidential election, they also report mixed emotions about their impact: 37% agreed with the statement “my vote doesn’t really matter” and 55% agreed “there are better ways of making a difference than voting.”