As the election quickly approaches, one cannot turn on the television, scroll through social media or browse the internet without seeing some sort of political candidate advertising. They often cover a broad range of policies such as COVID-19 response plans, health care or social justice, but one topic that has become increasingly important to young voters is climate change and sustainability efforts.
Gen Z has become especially invested in environmental issues and policies over the past few years, particularly in this election cycle
Who is Gen Z?
Gen Z is the generation following Millennials; according to the Pew Research Center this encompases people born after 1997, making 23 year olds the elders of this generation. It is key to remember that generational division lines are not an exact science and are simply used as tools for the analysis of different age groups.
Where do young voters stand on environmental policies?
A 2019 study conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors found that 80% of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 say that global warming is “a major threat” to humanity. In the same study, 74% of respondents felt that adopting more sustainable policies should be a major role of state and city governments rather than the role of the federal government alone.
Ultimately, young voters are aware of the fact that that their generations will have to bear the harsh outcomes of climate change, especially those in frontline communities affected by pollution and rising ocean levels. Because of this, organizations like Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, and Beyond are led by young activists and are demanding change.
Even voters in rural areas, typically untouched by targeted political campaigns, show concern for political policies around climate change and sustainability. A 2020 survey conducted by Clean and Prosperous America collected data from young voters between the ages of 18 and 39 living in non-urban areas. 77% of respondents stated that they would not vote for candidates who rolled back clean air and water regulations, and 76% said that it is extremely or somewhat important to create clean energy jobs in the wake of the pandemic.
A large part of Gen Z’s voting strategy has to do with the prospect of environmental policy change and the requirement that candidates have solid plans to combat the impacts of climate change. Olivia Kleven, a senior at Salem College stated,
“Voting for candidates that care about the environment and have a solid plan to
counteract the effect we have on the earth played a huge role in who I decided to vote for. I want leaders in power that recognize the importance of protecting the environment and making sustainable choices so that future generations can benefit rather than suffer from our current lifestyle.”
Similar to Olivia, many Gen Z-ers recognize that climate change and insufficient environmental policies pose a challenge that cannot be met by individuals. They also understand that the issue of climate change is a problem of today, not one for their great-great grandchildren to reckon with. Julia Stegman, a sophomore at the University of Louisville stated,
"Leaders need to care about the planet so we can continue to utilize its resources for generations to come without damaging its structure further."
Whatever the motive, young voters are showing up this election, with more than 6 million voters under the age of 30 having already cast their ballots, according to the data firm TargetSmart.