Over the past decade, Americans have placed climate change at the bottom of the list of public policy priorities. But, according to Pew’s January 2018 Public Policy Priorities survey, climate change is on the rise. Pew found that close to half, 46% of Americans, believe that dealing with climate change should be a top policy priority, a jump of 18 points since 2010, up 8 points in the last year alone, and the highest level since Pew started asking this question in 2007*.
Pew does not track nor report on the deeper rationale for this shift, but the answers may be self evident. Our changing climate is more visible, causing costly damage in lives, livelihoods, and communities. Federal actions to rollback progress, policies and commitments may have caused a boomerang effect among the American populace. And, last but not least, there is a formidable rising electorate placing much higher priority on addressing climate change.
Bridging the Political Divide
While the political divide on climate remains, there are signs of hope. Democrats and Republicans have both placed a higher priority on “dealing with climate change” over the past several years. A much higher percentage of Democrats versus Republicans prioritize climate (68% Democrats vs. 18% Republicans), but there has been a notable leap in Republican priority since 2010, when the results hovered at 11%.
This is a promising trajectory, however there is work to do to inspire Republicans on the issue. Nearly half of Republicans (48%) say that dealing with climate change is either “not too important” or “should not be done.” The climate movement faces a pressing opportunity to show Republicans that addressing climate change also addresses many other priorities at the top of their list, such as defending against terrorism, strengthening the economy, and strengthening the U.S. military.
Millennials and the Rising Electorate
ecoAmerica’s March 2018 American Climate Perspectives Survey found that a strong majority of Millennials (87%) are personally concerned about climate change, surpassing the national average by over 10 points. Pew’s results corroborated the report’s conclusion that Millennials are both a formidable rising electorate and also an importantly burgeoning climate constituency.
Addressing global climate change is the only issue, among 19 included in the survey, which is viewed by significantly more people under 30 (56%) than those 65 and older (37%) as a top policy priority.
This year’s midterm elections may prove to be the most dynamic in recent history. Out of the 435 open seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 36 Republican and 16 Democrat incumbents will be retiring. In the U.S. Senate, out of the 33 seats in contention, only 3 include retiring incumbents, all of whom are Republican. More than 2,000 candidates have filed or declared their congressional ambitions.
An enormous opportunity exists to ensure that climate change rises as a key election issue. In addition to motivating deeper engagement by the traditional environmental voter, the climate movement must harness and nurture the climate priorities of millennials, who are showing the highest interest-to-date for mid-term voting (at 62%, up from 39% in 2010).
Expanding Climate Constituency
Alongside bridging the political divide and engaging millennials, in order to achieve effective climate solutions we need to expand American climate constituency. Politicians and political candidates need a diversity of Americans to apply political pressure, beyond the traditional climate movement. ecoAmerica offers Blessed Tomorrow, Climate for Health, and Path to Positive Communities to this end. Through these programs we are forming coalitions for climate mitigation and advocacy to inspire, empower, and activate tens of millions of Americans for climate solutions. We hope you will join us in making climate change a personal priority, and climate solutions a personal right for all Americans.
*From 2007 – 2015, Pew used the language “global warming” in this question, and transitioned to “climate change” in 2015 – 2018.