Polling Spotlight: Young Republicans diverge on climate policy

Soybeans grow in front of the Kentucky Utilities Ghent Generating Station, a coal-fired power-plant, along the Ohio River in Vevay, Indiana, U.S., September 22, 2017.  Photograph taken at N38∞45.502' W85∞02.963'.  Photograph taken September 22, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RC1FCCADE810

It’s not news that there are big differences on energy and the environment between Democrats and Republicans. But now the Pew Research Center has found that there are significant differences between older and younger Republicans as well.

By a margin of 21 points, Republican millennials are less supportive of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) than are Republican Boomers. For coal mining, the gap is 28 points; for offshore gas and drilling, 31 points. In the latter two cases, Republican millennials are actually closer to Democrats than they are to senior members of their own party.

There are generational differences on climate change as well. Fifty-nine percent of Republican millennials think that climate change is having at least some effect on the United States, compared to forty-eight percent of older Republicans. While 47 percent of Republican millennials say that the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, only 27 percent of Republican Boomers agree.

This said, large gaps persist between young Republicans and most Democrats. Yes, by a margin of 36 to 18 percent, Republican millennials are more likely to say that climate change is “mostly” caused by human activity. But fully 75 percent of Democrats hold this view. And tellingly, only 30 percent of young Republicans believe that policies aimed at reducing the effects of climate change “do more good than harm for the environment,” compared to 66 percent of Democrats.

The plurality opinion among Republicans of all ages is that these policies don’t make a difference for climate change, one way or the other. But while few Democrats believe that efforts to reduce the effects of climate change end up hurting the economy, most Republicans do, which is why they tend to oppose them.

In sum, Republican millennials seem split between their generic stance toward climate change and their attitudes on specific policies. Rather than making the broad but ideologically fraught case on climate change, political strategists seeking to broaden the environmental coalition would be well advised to focus on narrower issues—such as fracking, coal mining, and offshore drilling—where younger Republicans seem disposed to make common cause with them.