Young Republicans: GOP is Losing us Over Climate Change

March 12, 2018


The Republican Party is alienating an entire generation of young conservative voters by continuing to downplay climate science and sidestep solutions.

Among the many internal battles over the heart and soul of the GOP, the most overlooked yet consequential may center on energy and environmental policy. Here, party leaders risk driving away the millennial generation that is the future of both parties, and already the largest voting bloc.

As the presidents of the College Republican groups at Harvard and Yale, we have witnessed this play out on our campuses, where climate change and clean energy have become defining issues that often stymie our recruitment efforts. Environmental issues significantly influence the voting patterns of most millennials, and polling indicatesthat nearly three-quarters of young conservatives support addressing climate change. It should come as little surprise, then, that 23 percent of Republicans under 30 switched to the Democratic Party in the past two years. That compares to just 9 percent of Democrats in the same age group switching to the GOP.

Unfortunately, today’s GOP forces its members to make a false choice between party and planet, to the detriment of both. President Donald Trump is absolutely right about the need to create jobs, drive economic growth and promote competitiveness. But on climate, he is missing an opportunity to position America as the world leader for the next generation of energy technologies.

A free market climate policy would unleash the greatest force on earth, American innovation, toward a brighter economic future for our generation. Using the government to subsidize coal, a highly polluting source of energy that has failed to compete in the market, will not do this.

New York Times:

As the Republican Party struggles to find its footing with the next generation of voters, several conservative college groups have banded together to champion something anathema to the party: a carbon tax.

The group is led by the Yale College Republicans, the main campus student organization for young Republicans at Yale, and includes other prominent Republican groups at 22 other schools around the country including Clemson University in South Carolina, North Carolina State University and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Under the name Students for Carbon Dividends, the coalition is backing an idea first broached by Republican heavyweights including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz: Tax the carbon pollution produced by burning fossil fuels and then return the money to consumers as a dividend in the form of monthly cash payments to individuals, both adults and children alike.

Late last month, several of the campus Republican leaders involved in the climate change coalition visited Washington to volunteer at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians.

Republican strategists said the budding movement reflected an important shift on social and environmental issues that could divide the party along generational lines. Political polls suggest that millennials are dissatisfied with what they see as politics as usual from both parties. But Republicans said they worried their ranks would bear the brunt of the shift as young people moved away from party orthodoxy on issues like guns, gay marriage and climate change.

“I think what we see is that, at a time when younger voters are rejecting party politics broadly, they’re rejecting the Republican Party at a much higher rate because what they see, according to them, is a party that doesn’t want to listen and doesn’t want to grow,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

“It’s a problem right now, but it’s going to be a catastrophic problem in five years or 10 years,” Mr. Heye said.

The leaders of nearly two dozen Republican student groups involved in the coalition said they and their peers accepted the scientific consensus that humans have played a significant role in warming the planet. Many said they were tired of hearing Republican leaders deny climate change and did not want their party branded as anti-science.

“As a party, we’re losing voters rapidly because of this issue,” said Kiera O’Brien, president of Harvard University’s Republican club, which is a member of the carbon-tax coalition. “I’m increasingly frustrated by the fact that the science is disputed when there’s clearly evidence of climate change. We need to have a solution for our party, but we also need a solution that’s an alternative between doing nothing or ceding everything to the government.”


The announcement from the newly-announced Students for Carbon Dividends group is the latest signal of a fissure between an older generation of elected Republicans who view climate change policies with skepticism and young conservatives who accept global warming science and want to see a conservative solution to the problem.

“People are really looking past the politics,” says Alexander Posner, president of the coalition and a Yale College student. “They’re interested in having a conversation about solutions.”

Student leaders behind the alliance, which includes college Republican groups from a diverse array of schools stretching from the heartland to New England, will promote a proposal for the federal government to tax carbon dioxide emissions from industry and return the revenue to taxpayers as a dividend. The plan also calls for a repeal of Obama-era climate change regulations.

The specific tax and dividend structure endorsed by the young Republicans was first proposed last year by a group of Republican party elder statesmen including former secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker as well conservative economists including N. Gregory Mankiw and Martin Feldstein, both Harvard University professors. The group, called the Climate Leadership Council, suggests taxing carbon dioxide emissions at $40 a ton and says the average American family of four would get $2,000 in annual dividends under the plan.

The new coalition hopes that the proposal — both serious and rooted in free market principles — will help win over disenchanted young Republicans. Polling from the Pew Research Center showed nearly a quarter of people under 30 who identified as Republican in 2015 switching to the Democratic Party by 2017. Young people, including young conservatives, overwhelmingly support measures to combat climate change. A survey commissioned during the Obama Administration by Young Conservatives for Energy Reform found that 74% of young conservative voters support measures that address global warming, provided they don’t harm the economy. And a poll released this week found just over half of young Republicans are concerned about climate change.

“College Republicans say they’re struggling to recruit on campus, often because of the climate issue,” says Posner. “Strategically there’s a real interest and value in conservatives taking an active stance on this issue.”


The bottom line: Millennials are broadly convinced human-induced climate change is real and deserves action, but millennial Republicans are relatively less concerned.

By the numbers: Here are a few takeaways from the polling conducted for the Alliance, a group pushing for conservatives to embrace a revenue-neutral carbon tax married to repeal of regulations.

  • Slightly over three-fourths of millennials agree that humans should take steps to slow or stop climate change.
  • Majorities of varying degrees of Democrats, independents and Republicans want action (see chart above).
  • 62% of millennials say the climate is changing due to human activity, though under half of the young Republicans polled said this comes closest to their view. (Note: The consensus view among scientists is that human activities are the primary driver of rising temperatures.)
  • Almost 70% of millennials say climate change will either seriously or somewhat affect them in their lifetimes.
  • A slim majority (51%) of young Republicans are concerned about climate change, while 61% are concerned about air pollution.

Quoted: Alliance executive director Alex Flint said the findings show that policymakers should consider “forward-looking solutions.”

“Cutting outdated energy regulations that stifle growth and replacing them with a revenue-neutral carbon tax will help grow the economy and create a market for clean-energy technologies, allowing markets to lead on reducing carbon pollution instead of government.”
— Alex Flint, in a statement

3 Responses to “Young Republicans: GOP is Losing us Over Climate Change”

  1. talies Says:

    Reaction to Inglis: tribal “science” 😦

  2. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    As the Republican Party struggles to find its footing with the next generation of voters, several conservative college groups have banded together to champion something anathema to the party: a carbon tax.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    The sooner this “GOP” becomes extinct the better for the whole planet.

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