The University Network

Poll: Climate Change Is The Top 2020 Issue For College Voters

College students view climate change as the most important issue in the 2020 election,  according to a recent poll conducted by College Reaction and WBRU, an internet radio station based in Providence, Rhode Island. 

At first glance, this may come as a surprise, considering the state of student debt and the abundance of media coverage surrounding it. However, according to this poll, student debt is sixth on the list. 

In many ways, it makes sense that students’ priority is addressing climate change. After all, the younger generations are the ones who will be most affected. 

And, across all age groups, there is no doubt that climate change has become a defining issue of the lead-up to the 2020 election. Many 2020 Democratic candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), have developed trillion dollar plans to put an end to U.S. carbon emissions. 

But, among the students who listed climate change as their top issue, only 1.9 percent said they believe Governor Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) — the candidate known for prioritizing climate change — best reflects their position on the topic. A much larger portion of that group (21.5 percent) sides with Joe Biden, according to the poll. 

Biden’s stance on climate change is bold, but Inslee has modeled his entire platform on addressing climate change. One would assume that student voters would show more support for the candidate that shares their political priorities. 

With this in mind, the authors of the poll list two potential reasons students may prioritize climate change but still prefer Uncle Joe.  

The first is, students may want bold climate legislation, but they understand legislative realities. 

“Biden’s plan is daring, but lacks the high-flown proclamations of a Green New Deal document, and might land more smoothly in a split Congress,” the authors wrote. 

And the second is, students may prefer Inslee, but are more comfortable settling for an established politician like Biden. 

“It’s possible that a plurality of students know Inslee’s vision, but want to aim for a candidate — and a plan — they think has a better chance of winning. Young people might be entering the electability game, and drafting a candidate with solid climate cred who has a better shot at winning,” the authors wrote. 

In April, College Reaction conducted a separate poll indicating which 2020 candidates are the most popular among college students. That poll, too, had Biden at the top, with 18.88 percent of students saying they prefer Biden. Following Biden were Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT.) with 15.09 percent, President Trump with 14.71 percent, and O’Rourke with 13.57 percent. 

This poll also presented an interesting dilemma. The results suggested that students are enthusiastic about the idea of a female or minority president. Yet, Biden, Sanders, Trump, and O’Rourke are all white men. 

It’s worth noting, however, that this poll was conducted before the first round of Democratic debates, and some students are already having a change of heart. 

According to College Reaction’s most recent poll, 31 percent of students who watched one of the Democratic debates changed their mind on who they supported. Out of that 31 percent, 29 percent of student voters switched to Kamala Harris, 16 percent switched to Pete Buttigieg, and 12 percent switched to Elizabeth Warren. 

But, of course, for college students’ political priorities to be addressed, they have to show up to vote. And historically, young Americans haven’t shown up at the same rates as their parents and grandparents. In the 2016 presidential election, only 48.3 percent of college students voted, compared to 69 percent of eligible baby boomers. 

But, we may see an increase in the number of student voters in the 2020 election. In response to the abortion laws passed in Georgia and Alabama, 63.1 percent of students say they are more likely to vote and 47 percent say they are “much more likely,” according to the College Reaction and WBRU poll.