Groups shift to registering, turning out young voters through issues like climate crisis

By: - September 22, 2022 8:29 am

“This is not your generation that thought it was funny to make fun of global warming.” (Provided photo)

While polls show economic issues and particularly inflation are top of mind for likely voters, some groups are hopeful that political messaging focused on climate issues will help drive first-time voters — especially young ones – to the polls.

On Tuesday, as part of National Voter Registration Day, the Nevada Conservation League and Chispa held a virtual event to launch a statewide initiative called Climate Power, which will call for continued action on climate change and promote candidates who support pro-climate policy.

Climate issues speak to the youngest generation of voters in a unique way that other issues may not, argues Michael Willoughby, a campaign consultant working with the environmental groups in Nevada, and it could be a driving force that helps increase turnout in the upcoming midterm elections.

“This is not your generation that thought it was funny to make fun of global warming,” says Willoughby of young voters, a term that typically refers to 18 to 24 year olds. “It used to be every time it was cold outside, every flake of snow, it was ‘Oop! Global warming!’ That’s not funny anymore.”

Dexter Lim, who co-founded the youth-led climate action group Sunrise Movement Las Vegas, describes the climate crisis as an “existential phenomenon” that looms heavy over the future.

“(It) will degrade safety and quality of life for everyone,” they said, “and it will impact young people for the longest.”

Sunrise members have already been moved to action. This Friday, they are expected to stage walkouts at six Las Vegas area high schools, including Clark and Palo Verde, as a call for climate action. They’ll also participate in a second public demonstration later that evening.

Come November, they’re likely to vote, and to encourage their peers to.

Historic turnout of young voters helped propel Democratic victories nationwide in 2018 and 2020, and turnout is again being seen by many as crucial to political victory in 2022.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) maintains a “2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index” that attempts to quantify where youth might have the biggest impact.

For Senate races, CIRCLE placed Nevada third — behind only Georgia and Arizona, and above Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. For gubernatorial races, Nevada placed sixth. In both of those races, the Democratic incumbents — Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak — face tough competition from high profile Republicans — former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, respectively.

CIRCLE notes that Nevada is one of a handful of states where there were more newly eligible voters (ages 18-19) registered in June 2022 than in June 2018.

Climate Power this month launched a $10 million, 12-week ad buy across Nevada and nine other states. Early ads in the campaign promote President Joe Biden and his signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the (no doubt strategically named) bill seen by many as the most significant attempt to address climate change ever enacted. The campaign will be targeted toward young voters, says Willoughby.

A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll identified inflation as the number-one voting issue. Thirty percent of people selected it over other issues, including abortion (22%) and health care (18%). A Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights survey found 44% of respondents identified ‘jobs and the economy’ as the most important issue facing Nevada. (Education came in a distant second at just 14%.) Other polls have found similar results.

Many polls don’t ask specifically about climate issues. But when potential and likely voters are asked, they acknowledge its importance and express desire for action on issues like the expansion of clean energy production.

Willoughby sees the issues of the economy and climate as one and the same, and he says much of the Climate Power campaign will focus on making the connection between climate issues and the economy, health care and other issues people list as important.

“The future of the economy is so deeply tied to (climate),” he says. “These things are completely and utterly just inherently intermixed. You can’t have any economy when it’s 125 degrees outside.”

State Sen. Fabian Donate, a Democrat who spoke at the event Tuesday, said he grew up in a community known for its poor health outcomes.

“We have an obligation to address the disparities that exist in our most vulnerable communities, especially for our Black and Latino neighborhoods that experience negative health outcomes,” he said. “Most of those are exacerbated by our inaction on the environment. Let me be clear: Climate change is negatively affecting our communities, there’s no doubt about it.”

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.