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Poll: Climate change is top issue for youth voters

As announcement season gives way to debate season in the 2020 race, College Reaction teamed up with WBRU – a multimedia news and opinion source – to gauge student views on meaningful political storylines.

One of the principle findings of the WBRU/College Reaction poll was that students consider climate change to be the most important issue in the presidential election. Below are some of the striking conclusions from the poll, which was conducted on May 28/29th and included 514 current college students at 4-year institutions.

Despite the emphasis on adjusting course on climate, spirited climate-stewards like Jay Inslee have not caught major support from young people. Only 2% of those who identified climate change as the most significant issue said they believe Inslee best reflects their stance on the topic; whereas Joe Biden grabbed 22% of that same population.

We're running into a similar dilemma as in our Presidential Support Index - despite youth support for female candidates and candidates of color, they are lining up in Biden's corner. In this case, our findings indicate that climate change is the main driver of the youth vote in 2020, yet candidates with robust policy are keeling out of contention. Of course, it's worth noting that Biden has sketched out a still-ambitious plan on the environment, aiming to be emissions-neutral by 2050. But he's still not the climate candidate.

A few factors that might be driving Biden's climate-lead:

1. Young people want climate change legislation, but recognize legislative realities. Biden's plan is daring, but lacks the high-flown proclamations of a Green New Deal document, and might land more smoothly in a split Congress.

2. Students want an Inslee, but will settle for a Biden. It's possible that a plurality of students know Inslee's vision, but want to aim for a candidate - and a plan - they think has a better chance of winning. Young people might be entering the electability game, and drafting a candidate with solid climate cred who has a better shot at winning.

Key Findings:

• Of those who say climate change is most important issue, 21.5% support

Biden, 16.5% support Sanders, 12.7% support Buttigieg, 11.4% support

O’Rourke, 11.4% support Warren (1.9% support Jay Inslee).

• 38.8% of Dems say a candidate who can beat Trump is more important

than a candidate that agrees with them on policy.

• Climate change (30.9%), Economy (16.4%), Health care (12.0%) are most

important issues (student debt is 6th).

• 63.1% say they’re more likely to vote in 2020 after the recent passage of

abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama (47% are much more likely)

• 70.5% of Dems believe Congress should begin impeachment proceedings.

As the debates shake and winnow the current field, College Reaction and WBRU will continue to monitor the youth vote’s opinions.


General: College Reaction utilizes multiple measures throughout the polling process

to maximize accuracy, ensure internal and external validity, and provide reliable


Sampling: College Reaction has a customized approach to get the most accurate

randomized sample of students at each college. Samples are aimed to represent the

specific population of each college, demographic trends, and the national student

population at large.

Depending on the availability of public information and resources available to us, we

have a “non-probability” sample of recruited students who have opted-in to

participate in our surveys in exchange for a monetary incentive. We have focused our

efforts to minimize biases in our recruitment process through different randomizing

processes. College Reaction utilizes publicly available information and contacts a

randomized group of students with an offer to opt-in for receiving our polls in

exchange for an incentive.

College E-mail Address: We utilize students’ college email addresses to prevent

multiple responses. We collect demographic information from students. We compare

this data to each school’s demographic trends and the national student demographic

information to ensure that our sample of students are representative of the target

population. This data is also utilized in weighting responses for accurate results.

Survey process: College Reaction sends the survey designed by the client to the

requested sample of students via email. The email asks the respondent to complete

the attached survey. Student typically have 24 hours, or in case of long surveys certain

number of days, to fill out the given survey. There are a few factors that might impact

accuracy of the question process or introduce biases, such as question design, order,

and whether or not the respondent can be identified.

Question design: The response accuracy could be influenced by the subject of the

11 poll and the wording of the questions. The responsibility of designing questions and

the potential biases that it introduces to the outcomes falls on the client. College

Reaction is willing and able to provide assistance in survey design. College Reaction

takes active measures in the design of its polls to mitigate introduction of any biases

Weighting: The proportions have been weighted by gender and race according to

each respondent's self-identified response. The weights were generated by

comparing the sample proportion of each combination of gender and race to the

corresponding true proportion of college students in the fall of 2015. The true

proportion was found on the National Center for Education Statistics website under

the total fall enrollment for 2015.

The purpose of weighting the results is to provide a distribution of results that most

closely resembles the distribution had the entire population of college students been

surveyed. By weighting, the new results are based on a population that, percentage

wise, matches the demographics of college students across the nation. When

weighting is not conducted, certain demographics are vulnerable to

underrepresentation or overrepresentation.

Respondent anonymity: Identifiable responses introduce biases and lower response

rate. College Reaction utilizes an anonymous and de-identified survey approach.

Results: The responses to our polls are monitored for multiple responses and

accuracy of answers through tracking time spent on the survey, email address, and

other traceable web identifiers.

External Validity: Our goal is to provide information to our clients that are

generalizable to the larger target population, whether it is an individual college,

students within a state or region, or the national college student population. We

utilize measures during the recruitment, polling, and weighting process to give

weight to different factors that impact the external validity of our polls.

Why conventional sampling methods fail on the college level?

To obtain a randomized sample of an entire population, polling organization

commonly utilize random digit dialing which contacts a random sample of landline

and cellphone number in the United States. Although this process has some biases

and drawbacks, it provides a good sample of the US population. However, students

enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions make up around 6% of the

larger US population. What adds to the difficulty of surveying is the response rate;

reputable organizations have below 10% response rates. This means that using the

traditional method, each 1000 calls would yield to less than 5 responses. A typical

poll of 1,500 respondents would require approximately 300,000 phone calls. It could

take roughly 2 years to conduct a single randomizes digit dialing poll.

That is why College Reaction has started to utilize modern scientific methods to

understand the college population. We have a customized approach for every

school, to find the most representative set of students that can be obtained to answer

questions regarding various topics. Our approach utilizes a scientific approach with

swift modern technology to bring our clients polls as quickly as a day, while keeping

accuracy at the focus of our polling.

What’s different about College Reaction’s sample?

Some services provide a panel of student to conduct research about college

students. However, these services consist of a mix of panel without a centralized

recruitment or an intentional sample of students. At College Reaction, we recruit

students intentionally and scientifically. We generate our respondent panel from

reaching out to a large section of each campus to participate, rather than relying on a

snowball effect, which could introduce bias. We know who our participants are and

how they were recruited. For instance, we allow our clients to specify which lists of

schools they would like to include in their survey, whereas other services simply

include demographic tags like “Age 18-24” or “College student.” Our ability to offer

in-depth and customizable insights into the college demographic – and the diverse

segments within it – set us apart.


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