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Sunrise Movement holds climate rally near White House

Hundreds of young climate activists rally in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2021. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

New Climate Polling Should Be Warning to Democratic Establishment, Group Says

"The polling indicates that not only should candidates run on policies like the Green New Deal, but they should center them—especially if they want to engage young voters," said the Sunrise Movement.

Julia Conley

With negotiations over the Build Back Better Act stalled, pandemic response funding dropped from a recent omnibus spending package, and the White House showing no interest in broadly canceling student loan debt, the Sunrise Movement issued a warning to Democrats Thursday: The party ignores young voters' demands for bold climate action at its own peril.

"After two years with a trifecta and little to show for it, Democrats can't run the same game plan and expect young people to turn out for them," said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, which campaigned aggressively for President Joe Biden and down-ballot candidates in 2020 after supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the primary. "Politicians have to earn young people's support."

In a memo to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the group cited polling released Thursday by progressive think tank Data for Progress showing that "overwhelming majorities of young voters support ambitious federal climate actions such as an executive order to declare a National Climate Emergency and the Green New Deal."

The Democratic Party must support candidates who back such actions in 2022, the Sunrise Movement said.

According to the survey of voters ages 18 to 35, 85% of respondents support an executive order declaring a National Climate Emergency, which would enable Biden to allocate federal resources specifically to respond to the global crisis and enforce strict regulations to limit planet-heating carbon emissions.

"After two years with a trifecta and little to show for it, Democrats can't run the same game plan and expect young people to turn out for them."

More than half of young voters from across the political spectrum support a Green New Deal when given little information about what the plan entails, including 77% of Democrats and 43% of Independents.

When Data for Progress explained the Green New Deal—which would create millions of good-paying, union jobs and put Americans to work rebuilding infrastructure and furthering a just transition to a 100% renewable energy economy—73% of respondents expressed support, including 89% of Democrats, nearly two-thirds of independents, and 50% of Republicans.

"The polling indicates that not only should candidates run on policies like the Green New Deal, but they should center them—especially if they want to engage young voters," said the Sunrise Movement's memo.

So far, the group warned, the Democratic Party is failing to show support for climate action proposals that are broadly popular with young voters—despite evidence that they helped the party secure the White House, Senate, and House in 2020.

In Texas' 28th Congressional District, for example, right-wing, anti-choice Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who has claimed the Green New Deal would "kill jobs," secured the support of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) earlier this year as he faced progressive Jessica Cisneros, an outspoken proponent of the plan. The two are now headed for a runoff in May after Cuellar won the March 1 primary by just 1.5%.

"Jessica Cisneros' strong showing in the polls earlier this month wasn't an accident," said the Sunrise Movement, which endorsed her. "Young people are ready and willing to mobilize and turnout for candidates that support the Green New Deal."

The group noted that backing progressives who support the Green New Deal and other broadly popular, bold initiatives is especially imperative as Biden's approval rating falls and congressional Democrats—obstructed by right-wing members of their own party and the Republicans—fail to extend the Child Tax Credit, include a methane fee and other climate action policies in the Build Back Better Act, and cancel student loan debt.

The president has also approved oil and gas drilling permits at a faster rate than former Republican President Donald Trump, infuriating climate advocates, while Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promised fossil fuel lobbyists in December that a ban on crude oil exports is not under consideration.

"Frustration within the Democratic voter base is rampant," the memo reads. "With razor-thin margins in both the House and Senate, and President Biden's plummeting approval ratings, the midterm elections will be a tough uphill battle for Democrats. Though many factors have impacted Biden's numbers, the president's failure to follow through on key campaign promises—especially on climate and Build Back Better—has undoubtedly hurt his popularity."

In then 2020 election, the Sunrise Movement noted, Biden's team recognized "that climate was not solely a winning message in deep blue districts and states," but nationwide—prompting Biden to make climate a centerpiece of his platform.

"State parties, including in swing states like Michigan, advocated for Biden by citing the Green New Deal," said the group. "His website still reads, 'Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.' This strong climate messaging was used by his campaign to successfully drive young voters to the polls."

"What are we supposed to tell the thousands of young people in our movement who made millions of calls and knocked doors for Joe Biden, but have watched the Democrats drop the ball on climate action again and again?" the Sunrise Movement added. "Instead of catering to a handful of billionaires, Democrats can earn our support by delivering on the promises they made to us and by running boldly on the Green New Deal."

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