The upcoming midterm elections will not be about climate change. Half of registered voters agree climate is “important,” but the issue is still ranked below six others. However, for young people, climate is a major issue in this election cycle, despite its overall sixth ranking.
Some conservatives would push back and reassert that climate is simply not the top issue, especially among the conservative base. Republicans would do better to emphasize the kitchen table issues Americans face: high energy costs, inflation and crime in urban areas.
For young voters, however, concern for climate change has driven their civic engagement in recent years. In 2020, voters under 30 were credited with electing now-President Joe Biden. When asked why they turned out to the polls in record numbers, climate change was near the top of the list.
While it’s true young voters have never been a significant conservative voting bloc, the strategy of dismissing their concerns until they get older (and more conservative) will reveal itself as a massive mistake. We cannot count on a conservative movement that is strong on climate to simply appear when millennials and Gen Z turn 45. We’re now seeing younger generations holding onto their politics as they age, and the issue of climate change has staying power as its effects worsen year after year. If conservatives lead on climate today, they can secure these votes in the future.
Voters hold grudges. When a young voter feels as though a party is ignoring their concerns, they will remember that as they age. If Republican candidates continue to ignore — or even deny — the climate issue, they will find their time in office limited.
It’s hard to find a young person who doesn’t have some level of concern for climate change, even if it’s not their singular top issue. College campuses are full of environmental advocacy groups — like mine, the American Conservation Coalition — and more and more young people are actually pursuing careers in climate advocacy and environmental-related professions.
The Republican strategy this election season is to be strong on immigration, crime and the economy, but it may not be enough. A candidate can be strong on a lot of issues, but if they’re weak on climate solutions, they’re dead in the water with young prospective constituents.
Taking the lessons of 2020 into account today, engaging on climate is especially important for Republican candidates because, for better or worse, Democrats already have climate credibility. Especially with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats have a solid climate resume to lean on while campaigning. Republicans have ground to make up with young voters to demonstrate that they are, in fact, at the climate table, have solutions of their own and will put them into action if they take the majority of either chamber of Congress in November.