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Politics

​The Political Fight Over EVs Is Already Over

There’s no turning back the clock now.

Vehicles with political bumper stickers.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Hyundai, Chevrolet

The Environmental Protection Agency last week released new emissions standards that would likely require two-thirds of new cars sold in the U.S. to be all-electric by 2032. The ambitious plan is likely to touch off a legal skirmish, but no matter what the courts say, the political battle is already over. The opposition to electric vehicles is old, soft, and in the process of being savvily bought off. Worries about a backlash are wildly overblown.

Not everyone sees it that way. Axios’ Josh Kraushaar encapsulated the conventional wisdom when he wrote that “Spending political capital on a climate change initiative geared largely toward the affluent part of the electorate — not the Americans struggling to pay for a new car — threatens to exacerbate Biden's economic challenges.” For Kraushaar, it is indicative of Democrats being “stuck in a bubble of the progressive base.” He warns that Biden’s climate policies could “be reversed” should he lose office.

But the transition to EVs is happening faster than Kraushaar thinks, and is much less vulnerable to political shifts than it was even two years ago, thanks to investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as an overall shift in industrial policy meant to cut China out of critical U.S. supply chains. And while automakers might chafe at the timeline, the new regulations will only spur more capital investment and technological innovation.

It’s true that some Fox News pundits and Republican officials have made no secret of their hostility to electric vehicles. State lawmakers in Wyoming, for example, introduced a bill calling for a phase-out of EV sales in the state by 2035. A North Carolina Republican proposed an absurd bill requiring that free diesel and gasoline be offered anywhere there is a free electric charging station. And there’s no question that battles loom over who will profit from car-charging and how we will manage the twilight of the gas-powered engine era.

So far, though, these kinds of bills and initiatives don’t appear to have legs even in red states despite the media attention they invite, in part because automakers are locating many of their battery factories in the heavily GOP Deep South and Sun Belt. Leaders in states like Georgia and North Carolina — critical to Republican national fortunes – have gone out of their way to attract battery manufacturers and aren’t likely to go to war with a major new industry. You can ask Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis how his battle with Disney is going to get a sense of how picking pointless fights with large employers is likely to turn out.

Another sign that the war over EVs will be brief and one-sided is that leading national Republicans, including potential 2024 presidential contenders like DeSantis, as well as other GOP governors, seem to support the EV revolution. That leaves former President Trump and his aging army of MAGA misinformation artists making absurd claims like, “The cars go for like two hours.” That’s the kind of nonsense that might thrill the crowd at a Trump rally but no longer sounds credible to most people.

Now, Trump isn’t the only Republican boomer skeptical of EVs. As with so many public policy issues, there is significant age and partisan polarization around all-electric cars. A recent AP-NORC/EPIC poll found younger respondents and Democrats much more likely to be seriously considering an EV for their next vehicle than elderly and Republican buyers. A quarter of 18-29 year-olds were “extremely or very likely” to choose an EV as their next car purchase, with another 31% saying they are “somewhat likely” to do so. Among Americans 60 and over, 57% say they are “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to buy an EV. 63% of Republicans say they are unlikely to buy an EV, against 31% of Democrats.

Why are older, more conservative Americans wedded to gas-powered cars? Maybe they like the smell of petrol because it reminds them of a time when driving cars with the gas mileage of a main battle tank was uncontroversial. Or maybe they’ll miss the distinctive rumble of an internal combustion engine roaring to life. Or maybe they’re just nervous about trying a new technology and will have to be coaxed into an EV.

Either way, generational churn is a fact of life. And majorities of Millennials and Zoomers support phasing out gas-powered vehicles altogether. By 2032, many of those young people will be approaching middle age, and millions of Boomers will be gone. Fossil fuel dead-enders hoping that the next generation will be more right-leaning than Gen Z should check out this 2022 poll of 13-19 year-olds, which found 84% agreeing with the idea that “if we don't address climate change today, it will be too late for future generations, making some parts of the planet unlivable.”

Perhaps just as importantly, many of the lingering concerns people have about EVs will diminish with rapid advances in technology. Next generation batteries will have longer ranges, fewer bugs, and shorter charging times. Worries that EVs are far more expensive than gas powered cars are quickly becoming obsolete. Chevy now has two EVs that retail for under $30,000, including the well-reviewed SUV version of the Volt. The Bolt EUV starts at just over $27,000 — and it is eligible for $7,500 in tax credits. Good luck finding a gas-powered SUV in that range.

The shift to EV production and supply chains is industry-wide and will be extremely difficult to reverse even if a Republican is elected president in 2024. Large manufacturers like Ford and Honda continue to make enormous global investments in EV production that will continue bringing prices down through competition while boosting driving ranges. As governments in overseas markets implement stricter emissions standards, automakers will have even less incentive to cater to the minority of people in a single, albeit very large, market who remain committed to gas powered cars.

It might be hard to imagine EVs as the vast majority of cars sold in the U.S. by 2032, when they were just 5.7% of all sales last year. But all-electric sales have already tripled since 2019. In a few years, as the expansion of charging stations and domestic battery production propelled by the Inflation Reduction Act makes owning an EV less unusual and more practical even for people outside of cities, all that will be left is the far right’s bizarre culture war fixation on fossil fuels, boosted by social media-fueled disinformation shared by meme and email about how EVs are worse for the environment or less safe to drive.

That’s not to say Republican defenders of the status quo will go down without a fight. And if Trump manages to get elected, he could seriously complicate the picture. But by the time he would take office in 2025, there will be millions more perfectly happy EV owners who won’t take kindly to efforts to turn back the clock.


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  • David Faris

    David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of The Kids Are All Left: How Young Voters Will Unite America. His work has appeared in The Week, Slate, The Washington Post, The New Republic, NPR.org, the Chicago Sun-Times, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. Read More

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