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Kayla Bauhaus, center, shows off a house built by students from Middlebury College at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 in Irvine, Calif. A new poll shows that millennials tend to vote for policies that support action on climate change. (Photograph by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Poll Finds Generation Gap on Energy Issues as Millennials Voice Climate Concerns

As voters head to the polls Tuesday, new research finds a generation gap on energy issues as millennials show greater concern about climate change.

Two-thirds of young adults (aged 18 to 34) say they’re inclined to vote for a political candidate who supports cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing financial incentives for renewable energy, according to an online poll of 2,105 U.S. residents by the University of Texas at Austin. In contrast, just half of seniors (aged 65 or older) say they would lend such support.

Unlike seniors, the majority of millennials say they’re willing to pay much higher prices to protect the environment. About 56%  of young adults take this view compared to 20% of seniors.

“We’re seeing a widening gulf among older and younger Americans” on energy issues even as attitudes continue to track along political lines, says Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT Energy Poll.

“Millennials are probably more aware of climate change,” she says, noting the plethora of climate stories and messages on social media in recent years.

They are more apt to vote for candidates who support cutting coal use (57%) requiring utilities to obtain a percentage of their electricity from renewables (62%) and imposing a “carbon tax” to reduce  the burning of fossil fuels (43%.) Seniors say they’d back candidates with such views by 33%, 48% and 22%, respectively.

Twice as many millennials support the export of natural gas as seniors, who likely have vivid memories of  long lines at gas stations during the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

Young adults show far less support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Midwest. While 38% back the pending project, 55% of seniors do. Millennials are also less inclined than older Americans to support increased development of offshore oil and natural gas.

Nearly half of those surveyed in the latest UT Energy Poll,  conducted Sept. 4 -16, say candidates’ views on energy issues will greatly influence their choices at the ballot box.

Yet that doesn’t mean millennials will necessarily swing the Nov. 4 election toward eco-minded candidates. Why? The poll finds that while 68% say they plan to vote, older Americans are even more likely to do so — a whopping 87% of those aged 55 and older.