Climate change and abortion rights are driving record engagement among young voters

Climate change and abortion rights are driving record engagement among young voters

In this 2018 file photo, Hurricane Florence flooded Swansboro N.C. and several other coastal cities in 2018. Climate change is making it more likely that NC faces dangerous hurricanes. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland, File)

By Michael McElroy

February 9, 2024

NextGen America started a website to help young voters learn more about one of the main issues driving that record engagement: climate change. 

Young adults are voting in record numbers and will likely be a deciding factor in the 2024 presidential election and in key races in North Carolina.

And now, the leading voting rights group focused exclusively on young voters has a tool to help them learn more about one of the main issues driving that record engagement: climate change

NextGen America, which has made contact with tens of millions of young voters since it was founded in 2013, has started a website that will help voters track available federal resources and recent legislation that is geared toward fighting climate change.

The site, Ignite the Future, “features links to clean-energy job boards, resources to discover affordable solar panels, heat pumps, and electric vehicles, and also urges users to continue pushing for climate action by writing and calling their representatives,” it says.

Climate change—and abortion rights—almost always comes up in NextGen’s conversations with young voters, the organization’s executive director, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, told Cardinal and Pine in December.

“It’s always at the forefront of young people’s minds,” she said. 

Voting amid record temperatures

While they are encouraged when they learn about the Biden administration’s efforts on climate change and the slow but measurable progress, they are still very concerned about the issue, she said.

“We’re seeing a lot of young people feel good that there’s action being taken,” she said, “but the climate crisis really expands young people’s feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear about the future.”

Last year was the hottest year on record. Last month was the warmest January ever. The summer before the election could bring new floods, fires, hurricanes, and record temperatures. 

Climate change will be one of the biggest issues on the ballot for young people.

“We’re going to be going into the hottest summer,” Tzintzún Ramirez said. “And there will be many people that suffer across the country because of that and across the globe, and so young people will be thinking about that when they go to vote.”

She added: “There’s just a clear difference between the likely candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, on those issues. It’s night and day.”

Bipartisan concern – among young voters anyway

While young people vote mostly for progressive causes, even young Republicans are worried about climate change, Tzintzún Ramirez said. 

A recent poll showed that some 75% of North Carolinians want the state to increase renewable energy resources and transition away from fossil fuels, the biggest driver of human caused climate change. 

Young voters are worried about their futures and increasingly frustrated at Republican politicians who minimize the dangers or, like Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, dismiss climate science entirely.

In a 2020 debate during his campaign for lieutenant governor, Robinson called climate change “junk science.” In this memoir two years later, he reiterated that claim, this time treating it as a conspiracy driven by “ideologies” and “special interests.”

“Guess what? Most of the people in North Carolina know global warming is junk science,” he wrote.

More than 70% of people nationwide, and more than 97% of scientists, acknowledge the realities of climate change.

Climate threats in North Carolina

Worry about the climate is growing worldwide, but North Carolina has its own specific dangers.  

The state sees the full arsenal of climate dangers, including an increased risk of hurricanes, coastal flooding, wildfires, and drought. Homes continue to fall into the sea on the barrier islands and home insurance rates are set to soar, chiefly because of climate change.

The Ignite the Future website highlights efforts undertaken by the Biden administration to address the risks of climate change and avoid the worse case scenarios. It primarily focuses on the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the $370 billion legislation that serves as the federal government’s signature weapon to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The IRA does a lot, but perhaps its biggest component is the mix of provisions aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions. It offers tax credits for companies to transition to or adopt clean energy technologies, and provides rebates to consumers to install or purchase these products, such as solar panels, heat pumps, and electric vehicles.

“The Inflation Reduction Act is a game-changer,” the website says, “creating good-paying green jobs that don’t require a college degree, fighting the climate crisis, and bringing down costs for everyday Americans.”

Those efforts have been particularly effective in North Carolina, NextGen says.

“New clean energy projects have already spurred $9.78 billion in investment and helped create or move forward over 4,768 good-paying clean energy jobs in the state,” Shelby Purdum, a NextGen spokesperson, said in an email. 

“Young voters are climate voters and we are excited to see this type of progress from our leaders,” she said.

‘A clear choice’

Tzintzún Ramirez said that young people care far more about issues than they do party affiliation, but that there is a clear difference among the parties.

“The top issues that pretty much every poll will show you that young people care about, it’s going to be the economy, inflation, climate change, and abortion. And on those top issues, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are just so far apart that it’s clear for those voters on those top issues that it will be a clear choice.”

She added: “That doesn’t mean that young people are blind cheerleaders for the Democratic party. They are not. A lot of ’em see themselves as independents because what they care about ultimately is less party and more progressive policy. And so as long as the Democratic Party continues to take positions that align with the policy vision that young people have for the country, I think they will do well with young voters.”

The rising engagement among young voters in the last several elections is only getting bigger.

“Our organization has been around for 10 years, and this is the highest level of youth civic participation in voting in our country’s history,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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