On Wednesday, the Harvard Institute of Politics released its latest poll on the political views of millennials. It surveyed more than 3,000 young Americans aged 18 to 29 — and the inquiry produced a striking data point when it comes to climate change.
The poll asked a question about on the subject based on prior CNN polling questions that have used the same wording. “Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming?” respondents were asked.
They had three options, and here are the resulting percentages:
Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities such as power plants and factories. 55%
Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by natural changes that have nothing to do with emissions from cars and industrial facilities. 20%
Global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven. 23%
Two percent of respondents declined to answer.
While this is a somewhat odd question setup, the overall result is pretty noteworthy. You could argue based on these results that 75 percent of millennials think global warming is happening – but at the same time, summing together the second two answers, the poll also suggests that fully 43 percent of millennials do not accept the mainstream science of global warming (namely, that it is human caused).
Moreover, while a slim majority of millennials do accept that human-caused climate change is a “proven fact,” that majority — 55 percent — is not much bigger than the majority of Americans as a whole who feel the same way. For instance, in a March survey by the Yale and George Mason research teams on climate change communication, 52 percent of Americans correctly stated that global warming is “mostly caused by human activities.”
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project, interpreted the new Harvard poll in this light in response to an email query. “Millennials are not that different than Americans as a whole on this issue,” he said.
Back in 2010, Leiserowitz and colleagues similarly examined the views of Americans aged 18 to 34 (at that time) on global warming, and found that they are “for the most part, split on the issue of global warming and, on some indicators, relatively disengaged when compared to older generations.”
Indeed, as a writer for the Harvard Political Review notes, breaking down the numbers above:
…these numbers are the same across the board for participants between 18 and 29 years old, with 51-56 percent agreeing that global warming is a fact and is caused by fuel emissions across age groups. In fact, the age group that least agreed with the first statement was that of 18 to 20-year-olds. The assumption that younger adults are more liberal when it comes to global warming does not hold up; if anything, they are even more skeptical.
So contrary to our common expectations, it doesn’t seem — at least based on these data — that young people today are very far out ahead of their parents when it comes to accepting the science of climate change.