President Donald Trump’s response to climate change may be, “I don’t believe it,” but a new poll shows just how dramatically out of step that leaves him with young Americans.
The poll, shared exclusively with VICE News, found that 80% of Generation Z and Millennials believe “global warming is a major threat to human life on earth as we know it,” according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors-Zogby Strategies National Youth Poll.
They also believe that state and local government should be doing something about it in the absence of federal government action.
“While the boomers are still trying to decide whether or not scientists can be trusted, our kids are saying, ‘Save the planet,’” said Shane Bemis, the Republican mayor of Gresham, Ore., who helped commission the poll. “For me, it's not a partisan issue and I could care less whether the Republican Party party is on it. I care about clean water, clean air and I care about my kids.”
Bemis, the co-chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ youth engagement efforts, said that despite climate denialism from Trump and much of the national Republican Party, these poll numbers help reinforce that the GOP will have to change to remain relevant.
He said he wants to stress that to his fellow mayors at a conference the group is holding in Washington, D.C., this weekend, where two former mayors who are running for president will speak: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“It's no longer okay to be able to deny climate change. That makes no sense to anyone.”
“When all of this is done, whatever this is that we're in right now, all of these issues are going to have to be centered in both political parties,” he said. “It's no longer okay to be able to deny climate change. That makes no sense to anyone.”
The poll also found that a quarter of the respondents try to reduce their carbon footprint practically every day and 35% try to in major life decisions only. Still, 76% said their primary mode of transportation is an automobile.
Interestingly, the poll found that 58% of respondents agreed with the statement, “We are amidst a climatic crisis, and drastic times call for bold measures; such as the need for the U.S. government to repair and upgrade the energy infrastructure; require utilities to develop renewable energy, and require businesses to become carbon free in the next 20 or 30 years.”
Twenty-one percent responded that sweeping climate legislation would be “beyond the capability” of the U.S. government. The rest chose neither statement of said they were not sure.
Green new voters
Jeremy Zogby, a pollster at the firm that conducted the survey, said they did not ask about the term, “Green New Deal,” which has become politicized. But the survey showed that the actual tenets of the Green New Deal, championed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, are popular, namely upgrading energy infrastructure, requiring utilities to develop renewable energy, and mandating businesses to become carbon free.
“That's kind of … a green light to go forward with those kinds of measures,” he said. “They can propose something as drastic as the Green New Deal and get the support from this age cohort.”
The poll was conducted over email in early December and polled 1,000 18- to 29-year-old registered likely voters nationwide, randomly sampled from an Ohio-based email list provider.
These numbers on climate change are not exactly surprising to anyone who has seen how young the activists marching in the streets are. It’s also not a surprise that since young people seem to want drastic action to address climate change, a plurality supports a presidential candidate proposing sweeping plans on the issue.
A separate Forbes-Zogby poll found Sanders had the most support among 18- to 29-year-old likely voters, with 32% support among that electorate.
The poll shared with VICE News also found that gun violence is also a defining issue for Generation Z and Millennials and also dug into why. Twenty-nine percent say they have or a relative has been personally affected by gun violence—an answer that jumps to more than 40% when the respondent is African American or a self-identified progressive.
When asked to choose what policies would curb gun violence, 44% chose universal background checks, 33% chose red flag legislation, and three answers got 26% support: a federal assault weapons ban, a federal firearm registry and mandatory federal gun licenses.
More than half of respondents believe undocumented immigrants who have been granted legal protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should be given legal status or a pathway to citizenship, while a similar number believe the border wall is a “signal that out government is turning hostile to immigrants and asylum seekers.”
The poll also presented some interest, if not disjointed, information about how young voters see their jobs prospects and the economy, which a plurality of 29% chose as the most critical issue affecting who they’ll vote for.
Forty-nine percent said they are optimistic about their job prospects in the future, but 30% said they are still in the headwinds of the 2008 financial crisis. Although 40% answered their parents left them a world that is worse off, 54% agreed they would be financially better off than their parents.. While 41% expect to be able to retire after age 65, 44% don’t believe Social Security will be available to them by that time.
“I think that is that youthful optimism that things are going to get better, and I think that that's probably what we're seeing, that dichotomy,” said Topeka, Kan., Mayor Michelle De La Isla, a Democrat who co-chairs the youth engagement effort with Bemis. “Here's the situation now, we still think that things may get better, but we see some challenges, but we'll make it happen.”
“But isn't that what teens and young people sound like?” she continued.
Oh and one more thing. Nineteen percent of respondents said they vape.
Cover image: Louis Roberts, 19, holds up his homemade sign in Foley Square in Manhattan, New York during the Global Climate Strikes on Sept. 20, 2019. (Alex Lubben/VICE News)