Concern for Climate Change Directly Informs Youth Civic Engagement
Youth concern about climate presents an important opportunity to engage a diverse group of youth and support their leadership. However, we need to better understand the relationships different youth have to the issue and how their distinct attitudes and experiences, as well as differences in their backgrounds and access to resources, shape what it takes to involve them in meaningful action.
This report, based on new data from CIRCLE’s nationally representative survey of young people (ages 18-34) ahead of the 2024 election, examined patterns in young people’s relationship to climate change in order to inform how organizations communicate with and reach youth with an understanding of how different youth approach this critical global issue. Our analysis identified four groups of youth whose connection—or lack thereof—to the climate issue can influence future efforts to engage them.
- Untapped potential among the 4 in 10 youth who believe in their ability to have influence on the climate issue: The largest group of youth identified in our analysis (40%) do not currently report being directly affected by climate change, but believe they have the ability to have influence on this issue. However, they are participating in civic actions (both on climate and other issues) at lower rates than other youth. These youth are more likely to be Black, from lower income households, and younger.
- A majority of youth (56%) do not identify as strongly Republican or strongly Democratic, and many are still undecided who they will vote for: Party affiliation and vote choice for two of the groups align with each of the two major parties. However, many unaffiliated youth were found across all groups, and in the two remaining groups that are not strongly Republican nor strongly Democratic, many youth are still undecided who they will vote for in the 2024 presidential election.
- Youth who feel most threatened by climate change are satisfied with government action on the issue when they know about it; other youth, despite that knowledge, were not likely to be satisfied with it: Most youth who have a lot of information about the actions and policies of the U.S. federal government on climate were likely to be dissatisfied. However, among youth who feel most threatened by climate change, satisfaction was higher if they had more knowledge about government action.
- Access to civic information and civic organizations matter: Multiple groups of youth feel threatened by climate change. Those who, despite being threatened, feel “they have the power to change things” had the highest rates of access to civic information from organizations and institutions (not just from people they know), and the highest rates of membership in civic organizations like local groups and social and political movements.
- Potential to pull more youth into climate action and broader civic engagement: Not all young people who are affected by or concerned about climate change are taking action on the climate issue. But all groups of youth report wanting to engage in civic actions (on any issue) at greater rates than they are currently participating.
This work was conducted with the support of Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE) and Climate Power.