Poll finds millennials more concerned about energy and the environment

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

What starts with millennials could change the world’s climate. Although energy and environmental issues are still mainly partisan among older Americans, younger voters are overall more concerned about climate change, according to a UT survey.

The UT Energy Poll, run by the McCombs School of Business Energy Management and Innovation Center, surveys a national representative group of U.S. citizens from various demographics. 

The biannual poll asks participants about current energy topics, such as climate change, fracking and nuclear energy. The spring 2016 poll in particular asked survey participants about how their views on energy issues will influence their choice of president.

“Energy issues can be extremely partisan,” Sheril Kirshenbaum, the associate director of the poll, said. “With each presidential election, we plan to focus very heavily on how people are going to vote as it relates to energy issues.”

Young and old voters differ widely in concern for environmental issues and climate change, according to Kirshenbaum. 

“Millennials, or people under 35, are far more likely to be interested in reducing carbon emissions,” Kirshenbaum said. “They’re a lot more likely to say that climate change is happening, and they’re a lot more interested in taking steps to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Millennials are also more interested in the effects of energy use on the environment, said Maliha Mazhar, communications director for University Democrats.

“Looking at the different generations, I definitely think millennials are much more interested and believe in climate change and that man has had a significant impact on the way that our planet is doing now,” she said.

The sample size is too small when the survey group is divided by both political orientation and age, so the UT Energy Poll offers no data for how millennial Republicans feel about these issues, Kirshenbaum said. 

However, because of this generational split on energy issues, younger Republicans tend to be more aware of climate change, along with their peers, said David Spence, a McCombs professor who is part of the group of faculty that suggests questions for the poll.

“Support for the notion that climate change is happening and driven by humans has always been higher among younger people than older people,” Spence said. “You see that split particularly among Republicans and conservatives.”

College Republicans communications director Robert Guerra said he can’t generalize young Republican attitudes but said younger Republicans generally care about different issues than older Republicans.

“I think, across the board, younger conservative voters tend to have a different set of issues that they prioritize as opposed to older Republican voters,” he said.

Although there is still a partisan split regarding controversial energy and environment issues, such as foreign energy dependence, a majority of Republicans are acknowledging climate change, Kirshenbaum said. 

According to the survey, 54 percent of Republicans recognize that climate change is happening, compared to 90 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of the overall population.

“Since we started polling, there has been a dramatic change in the percentage of Americans who acknowledge that something is taking place,” Kirshenbaum said.

Mazhar said it will be important for these two political groups to work together in the future to find energy and environmental solutions. 

“I think that our next president needs to have a very strategic plan and have advisors put in place,” she said. “We all need to come together and recognize this is a real thing so that we can put in the crucial steps that we need to make sure we don’t cause irreparable harm to our planet,” she said.