Is Bill Nye right: Could Republicans win Millennials on climate change?

Bill Nye the Science Guy says Republicans can kiss the Millennial vote goodbye unless their candidates address climate change. Is he right?

Adrees Latif/Reuters/File
Activists hold a banner as they lead a march of tens of thousands down 6th Avenue during the People's Climate March through Midtown in New York, September 21, 2014.

Republicans won't get the Millennial vote until they acknowledge climate change, said the popular personality Bill Nye the Science Guy while on Comedy Central's The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. 

"Don’t be surprised, after the conservatives, the Republicans, pick somebody, this person goes, well, I've been thinking about it and climate change is a big issue," Nye tells Mr. Wilmore. "I don’t think the party can quite get enough votes without Millennials. Climate denial is almost entirely generational. Only now and then do you meet a young person – nobody your age is a climate denier. Very few. It’s all old people." 

So is the Science Guy right?

It's true that the GOP can't afford to write off the Millennial vote. There are 83.1 million Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) in the US, meaning that for the first time ever the baby boomers are matched in voting power. In other words, almost 37 percent of all voters in 2016 identify as Millennials.

And it's also true that Millennials care about climate change. Pew Research polling says that 75 percent of Democratic Millennials say there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and 49 percent of Republican Millennials agree with their political counterparts. And 57 percent of all Millennials say that stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost and 81 percent agree that America should transition to clean energy by 2030

"If we don’t have a place to live, then it doesn't really make sense to worry about anything else," Scott McGeary, 34, of Seattle, tells USA Today in response to climate change and other political issues. 

But surveys also suggest that climate change, while important to Millennials, is not a make or break issue when choosing a presidential candidate. While it is typically a top-five issue for Millennials, economic opportunity – through either job opportunity or student loan affordability – still seems to matter most, reports Harstad Strategic Research, Inc.

It might be an added plus for candidates to address climate change, but "it's not as important to Americans right now as the bread-and-butter issues," Geoffery Feinberg, research director at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication tells The Monitor’s Henry Gass. "I don't think it’ll be a pivotal issue [in 2016]. As in all past elections the economy, jobs, maybe new terrorism, these things will continue to be the most important issues." 

While more young people identify as Democrats by a margin of 41 to 28 percent, the Millennial vote is not completely out of reach for the GOP. 

According to a poll by USA Today and Rock the Vote, Millennials typically consider themselves to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. And a 2014 poll by Harvard suggests that Obama’s elections in 2008 and 2012 – when Democrats carried the Millennial demographic at 66 and 60 percent respectively – were simply low points for the GOP, and the Millennial generation is actually a swing group, yet again up for grabs. 

Republican presidential dropouts Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky have all made statements that climate change exists. And while none of them said that climate change is entirely anthropogenic or offered any concrete policy plans to address it, they all acknowledged that the Earth is warmer now than in previous human history. 

But the top two Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, say climate change doesn't exist at all.

"The radical left loves attacking people as anti-science when anyone dares question their computer models on global warming," Mr. Cruz said at an Iowa Agriculture Summit in March of last year. And Donald Trump referred to global warming as a "hoax," possibly even invented by the Chinese to make US manufacturing noncompetitive. 

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