Even Progressives View the Path to 100% Renewables With Pragmatism

Image: GTM

One of the biggest points of contention among likely Democratic voters when it comes to climate change has been the timeline in which the United States should transition to 100% emissions-free energy. But whether that date is 2030 (as Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed) or 2050 (such as what Beto O’Rourke outlined) another critical factor that pollsters are trying to understand is how voters–and especially young voters–view zero-emissions energy sources like nuclear fitting into broader emissions reductions goals. Centrist think tank Third Way along with Change Research partners recently conducted a poll of likely Democratic primary voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, as well as the Super Tuesday states of California and Texas and found that 55% of progressive, digitally-engaged voters in these states are in favor of a path that includes nuclear versus 36% who are for the narrow path of renewables only. 

Here are a few key findings:

  • 55% of Extremely Online likely Democratic voters want the U.S. to focus on transitioning to 100% clean energy, which means renewables but also nuclear power and carbon capture, while just 36% want renewables only.
    • Among voters who identify climate as their top issue, this preference for 100% clean energy jumps four points to 59%.
  • 74% of respondents say they would be more likely to support a candidate with a climate plan that included nuclear and carbon capture alongside renewables like wind and solar.
    • Only 14% say they would be less likely to support a candidate with a technology-inclusive climate plan.
  • 82% of these Extremely Online voters express “strong support” for getting to 100% clean power in thirty years, but this dips to 70% when the timeline is cut to ten years.
    • They view the former as credible and the latter as unattainable.

Even progressive Democrats value pragmatism: Despite this sense of urgency, these voters know that the crisis cannot be solved in a few short years.

  • 47% are optimistic the crisis can be solved, but they believe it won’t happen until the next generation’s lifetime.
  • By comparison, just 19% say it can be done in their lifetime.
  • But only 26% are pessimistic that we can solve the crisis at all.

Most know this crisis can be solved, but also that it will require profound, structural changes to our way of life that will stretch over decades not years.  Third Way and Change Research’s poll shows that these voters are supportive of technology that can feasibly put the United States on a path to rapidly curb emissions and abate climate change.

But but but: Other experts like Jigar Shah of Generate Capital have pointed out that renewables and nuclear energy aren’t competing energy technologies, rather nuclear is competing with coal and natural gas and is, therefore, a bridge energy until 100% renewable energy can be achieved.

Why This Matters: This poll shows that the Democratic primary electorate views climate change as a top issue in the race to pick the party’s nominee (previous polls this year have echoed this as well). Millennials (even Millennial Trump supporters) are the most climate-motivated voters in the Democratic party and GenZ (the generation behind them) could perhaps be even motivated by the issue. This underscores the need for all candidates to have a solid climate message because in the 2018 midterm elections, GenZ, Millennials, and GenX outvoted older generations for the first time.

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