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Science & Environment

What Climate Change Issues Mean To Democratic Primary Voters

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. We're just a few days away from Super Tuesday, and we should say there is one big difference from 2016. Climate change is now a top issue in the primaries for Democratic voters. But will that carry through until the general election? Grace Hood of Colorado Public Radio has been talking to voters about this as part of our reporting project Where Voters Are.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Longtime Denver resident KSue Anderson is 80 years old. She's been a registered Democrat all her life. But this election cycle, she can't stop thinking about climate change. Looking out the window from her bungalow, the weather is just different.

KSUE ANDERSON: The winters here in Colorado are much warmer than they used to be. We don't get as much snow as we used to, and when we get it, it comes in huge things.

HOOD: She wants President Trump out of office. She worries about his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. That nagging concern has grown after the Trump administration loosened restrictions on water pollution and climate-warming methane, saying they pose a burden to business.

ANDERSON: I am extremely concerned about the rollback on some of the laws, et cetera, that are environmentally based. I'm concerned the top 1% has taken over the United States.

HOOD: Between 2014 and 2019, the number of Americans alarmed about climate change nearly tripled, according to the Yale Program on Climate Communications. Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center sees the same thing.

CARY FUNK: We're seeing a rising concern among Americans as a whole that climate change is a problem for the country.

HOOD: A big driver is wacky weather. Pew reports Americans who live in Western states see more wildfires and droughts. Others worry about extreme heat and rising sea levels affecting the coasts.

FUNK: But then when you look under the hood, what you notice is that the shift is primarily among Democrats, not Republicans.

HOOD: A recent Pew report says 90% of Democrats think the U.S. government is doing too little on climate change. That's compared to 40% of Republicans. There are pockets of concern among Republican millennials and some independents. For Democratic pollster Andrew Baumann with Global Strategy Group, this marks an opportunity.

ANDREW BAUMANN: Four years ago, voters might say they care about it, but they weren't going to vote on it. And that's really changed. You know, this has been one of the issues, maybe outside of gay marriage, that has really changed as quickly as anything else that I've ever seen in public opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So who else here is really excited to, like, mobilize and organize?

HOOD: In Boulder, enthusiastic 20- and 30-somethings crowd a room on the campus of the University of Colorado. Eighteen-year-old freshman Zeron Lawson likes the idea of a fracking ban that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed.

ZERON LAWSON: And the fact that, like, our president withdrew us from the Paris climate accord is just bizarre. And it goes along with that whole us, as students, the younger generations - we feel that, you know, nobody cares for what our tomorrow looks like.

HOOD: The world's leading climate scientists have warned the globe needs to sharply reduce carbon emissions, and soon, to stave off more catastrophic impacts. Back in Denver, KSue Anderson says climate will drive her vote in Colorado's primary. But in November...

ANDERSON: I'm thinking that maybe economy and taxes and jobs, although I think climate change is in the mix.

HOOD: She wants Democrats to push whatever issues it will take to beat Donald Trump.

For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POSTAL SERVICE SONG, "NATURAL ANTHEM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.