Politics

Americans More Upbeat About Environmental Quality

by Lydia Saad

Fewer are worried about the environment

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans grew more content over the past year with the overall quality of the environment in the country. Their "excellent" or "good" ratings now total 46%, up from 39% in March 2009. Despite these shifts, the majority (53%) continue to rate current environmental conditions as only fair or poor.

2001-2010 Trend: Ratings of the Quality of the Environment in the U.S.

This trend comes from Gallup's annual Social Series Environment survey, with the latest installment conducted March 4-7, 2010. The current ratings are the most positive Gallup has measured since 2002.

"Public optimism about the environmental outlook surged among independents and Democrats in surveys bracketing the shift in presidential administrations from George W. Bush's to Obama's."

By contrast, Gallup finds no meaningful change in Americans' responses to a separate question asking whether environmental conditions are getting better or getting worse. Forty-one percent believe conditions are improving, the same as last year. Roughly half (48%) now say they are getting worse, similar to the 51% saying this a year ago.

The public's environmental outlook in the last two surveys -- dating to March 2009, just after the inauguration of Barack Obama as president -- is far more optimistic than what Gallup found in the decade prior to his taking office.

2001-2010 Trend: Outlook for the Quality of the Environment in the U.S.

Public optimism about the environmental outlook surged among independents and Democrats in surveys bracketing the shift in presidential administrations from George W. Bush's to Obama's. Republicans' views did not change.

2008-2010 Trend: Outlook for the Quality of the Environment in the U.S., by Party ID

Positive ratings of the current quality of the environment have increased by five to eight points compared to a year ago among all three party groups. Republicans' perceptions of environmental quality had declined between 2008 and 2009 before rising slightly this year. Democrats' views were flat between 2008 and 2009, while the views of independents have grown slightly more positive each year.

2008-2010 Trend: Ratings of the Quality of the Environment in the U.S., by Party ID

With Contentment Up, Worry Is Down

With more Americans today than in 2008 believing the environment is in good shape and improving, it is not surprising to find a decline over the same period in the percentage highly worried about the environment.

Currently, Americans are split roughly into thirds, according to the degree to which they worry about environmental quality: 34% say they worry a great deal, 34% worry a fair amount, and 31% worry only a little or not at all. However, the highly worried group is down from 40% in 2008, and from a high of 43% in 2007.

2001-2010 Trend: Worry About the Environment

Overall, Democrats worry most about the environment, and Republicans least. Independents show the greatest decline in worry since 2008 (down nine points, from 41% to 32%). This compares with three- and four-point drops among Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

Percentage Worried a "Great Deal" About Quality of the Environment, by Party ID

The percentage of Americans forecasting that the environment will be the most important problem facing the country in future decades has also dipped slightly this year -- from 14% in 2007 and 2008 to 11% today. It remains higher than in the several years prior to 2007. At no time in the past decade have more than a small percentage of Americans cited the environment as the most important problem facing the country today.

2000-2010 Trend: Environment as Most Important Problem, Today and 25 Years From Now

Bottom Line

Americans are more upbeat about environmental conditions in the U.S. today than they were two years ago. This has happened in two stages. The first was seen a year ago, when increased percentages of Democrats and independents thought the environment was getting better. This year, Gallup finds gains in positive evaluations of current environmental conditions among all three party groups. Perhaps as a result of both shifts, public worry about the environment is lower today than it was two years ago.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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