Americans not yet moved by climate change

Devastating and life changing droughts, wildfires, and floods in California, hurricanes along the coast of Florida, flooding and blackouts in Texas. With the rise in extreme weather events due to climate change, we would expect Americans to begin moving to safer areas.

Yet, our latest Willow Poll suggests that climate change is not yet a big factor in where Americans want to live. Indeed, the states experiencing the most extreme weather continue to be among the most popular destination states. While most Americans believe climate change is real, they are not yet inclined to relocate because of it.

On the move

First, most Americans plan to stay where they are.  Just about one in four Americans (24%) say that they are likely to move to another state in the next five years or so, with only one in ten (10%) who say that they are “very likely” to move to another state.

Young people are most likely to be on the move, seniors least likely.  40% of Gen Z, and 33% of Millennials say that they are likely to move to another state in the next five years, compared to just 24% of Gen X and 11% of Boomers.

Consistent with what other research has found, Americans are still flocking to high risk climate change states. When asked where they are likely to move to, high risk states such as Florida, Texas and California lead the top destination states.  By contrast, less risky cold weather states like Alaska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas are least likely to be considered among those planning an interstate move.

Economic factors dominate the decision to move

Among those who plan to move out of state, not surprisingly, the decision to move tends to be driven by economic considerations, like affordable housing (88%), the cost of living (84%), and job opportunities (74%).  Crime is also a top consideration (78%).

Better weather (71%) is still more important than climate change.  Out of a list of 15 factors asked about, climate change ranked near the bottom, with 56% of respondents saying that climate change is an important factor in their decision to move to another state.

As an aside, politics (52%) and state abortion laws (48%) also rank relatively low when people are considering whether to move to another state.

While climate change ranks relatively low compared to the other decision factors, it is still important for the majority of those who plan to move (56%). Further, climate change is a particularly important factor for Millennials (66%), who are in the prime years for establishing their homes and raising a family.

And, there are some early indicators of a small climate migration.  An analysis of US Census data estimates that about 220,000 Americans have moved due to climate change in the past decade.  This is just a fraction (2%) of the roughly 10 million Americans who have been directly impacted by a climate event in the same time period.

However, if devastating weather events continue to hit popular destination states like Florida, Texas, and California, we would expect the migratory patterns to shift.  For example, Texas has long been a leading destination state, but data suggests that early climate migrants are most likely to have left Texas. Conversely, Illinois has long been a leading outbound state, but scientists predict that may change as more Americans decide to move closer to the abundant fresh water of the Great Lakes.

Collectively the data suggest that many Americans are already feeling the impact of climate change, but most are resistant to moving because of it, at least for now.  We haven’t reached the tipping point yet, but things could change quickly.

About the Survey

Unless otherwise noted, data in this report come from our recent “Willow Poll,” which explored confidence in institutions, the national mood, and other social and political issues. The study, conducted in August and September 2022, is based on online interviews with a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 Americans age 18 and over. Demographic quotas were established based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Interviewing was conducted online by Prodege, an innovative global survey sample provider.

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