EPC Resource Library / Weekly Roundups

Environmental Polling Roundup – February 2, 2024





This recently released polling from Marist focuses on generational differences on a few major issues, and finds that Gen Z’s climate concerns are on par or even higher than Millennials’. Meanwhile, both of these generations stand apart from the rest of the population in their levels of climate concern.

Majorities of every generation say that they’re at least “somewhat” concerned about climate change, including overwhelming majorities of Gen Z Americans (85%) and Millennials (78%) as well as around three in five Gen X Americans (60%), Baby Boomers (59%), and Americans from the Silent/Greatest generations (63%).

Concerns among Gen Z and Millennials are also the most intense: nearly half of Gen Z Americans (49%) and Millennials (47%) say that they’re “very” concerned about climate change, compared to 32% of Gen X, 41% of Baby Boomers, and 34% of the Silent/Greatest generations.

Gen Z and Millennials are also relatively more convinced by climate science. Around two-thirds of Gen Z Americans (66%) and Millennials (65%) recognize that climate change is caused mostly by human activity, compared to just under half of Gen X (47%), Baby Boomers (48%), and the Silent/Greatest generations (47%).

Similarly, Gen Z Americans (64%) and Millennials (69%) are both more likely to say that they “trust what scientists say when they warn about climate change” than Gen X Americans (47%), Baby Boomers (52%), or the Silent/Greatest generations (56%).

The poll also underlines the stark partisan differences in Americans’ climate concerns. Overall, two-thirds of Americans (67%) say that they’re at least “somewhat” concerned about climate change – including nearly all Democrats (92%) but just under two in five Republicans (37%). Around two-thirds of Democrats (68%) further say that they’re “very” concerned about climate change, compared to just 12% of Republicans.

Polls consistently show that climate change ranks in the very top tier of Democrats’ issue priorities, though recent polling shows how the results of “most important issue” questions in polls are very dependent on question wording and the options that are provided to respondents.

The Economist and YouGov find that Democrats are more likely to select climate change and the environment (17%) as the single “most important issue” to them than any other issue when provided with a list of 15 options. Health care (13%), inflation/prices (11%), and abortion (10%) rank as the next-highest priorities for Democrats.

In the Economist/YouGov poll, climate change and the environment (10%) is also one of only four issues that 10% or more of Americans rank as their “most important” – along with inflation/prices (17%), immigration (13%), and jobs and the economy (11%).

Another recent poll from Quinnipiac provided respondents with a list of 10 options to choose from as “the most urgent issue facing the country today.” In the Quinnipiac poll, “preserving Democracy” – an option that wasn’t included in the Economist/YouGov poll – ranks as the top issue both for voters overall (24%) and for Democratic voters (39%). 

In the Quinnipiac data, just 4% of voters overall select climate change as the single “most urgent issue.” And among Democrats, climate change (8%), the economy (12%), and abortion (8%) all rank well behind preserving Democracy (39%).

There are a few important takeaways from these polls, and it’s useful to understand what the data is really saying because these kinds of “most important issue” questions often get manipulated by opponents of climate action to try to paint climate change as a niche concern.

First, the percentage of voters who are chiefly concerned about any one single issue is quite small. Only one issue in the Quinnipiac poll, preserving democracy, was chosen as the “top” issue by more than 20% of voters. And in the Economist/YouGov poll, no single issue was selected by more than 17%.

In relative terms, meanwhile, the share of Americans who are most concerned about climate change and the environment is consistently high. We can see this in the Economist/YouGov data, where climate and the environment ranks on par with immigration, health care, and even jobs and the economy as a “top” issue.

And in the Quinnipiac data, where only 4% chose climate change as the most “urgent issue” for the country, few in absolute terms chose either health care (6%) or abortion (5%) – two issues that it would be very difficult to spin as niche concerns.

Polls can tell very different stories about the issues that Americans prioritize based on their question wording and the options provided to respondents. Therefore, it’s important to look at lasting trends in the aggregate. In the Quinnipiac poll, for example, the inclusion of “preserving Democracy” clearly suppressed every other possible response. This is probably because it provided Democrats with a clear option to express their opposition to Trump, as Democrats were more than three times more likely to choose “preserving democracy” as the most urgent issue than any other option.

In years of polling on Americans’ biggest issue priorities, meanwhile, climate change and the environment have very consistently rated as top-tier priorities for Democrats – on par with other core issues for the Democratic base such as health care, abortion, and gun violence prevention.

Related Resources