PRINCETON, NJ -- For the fifth consecutive year, more Americans are interested in protecting economic growth than in protecting the environment when the two goals are at odds. This year's 48% to 43% split represents a relatively narrow advantage for the economy, similar to last year's reading. But the latest result contrasts with 2011, when a record-high 54% chose the economy as the higher priority.
Gallup asks Americans whether protection of the environment should be given priority "even at the risk of curbing economic growth," or if economic growth should have priority "even if the environment suffers to some extent." The new data are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 7-10.
Prior to 2008, Gallup typically found Americans siding with the environment, albeit by fairly slim margins in 2003 and 2004, likely a reflection of Americans' economic anxiety at that time. However, support for the environment on this question fell to 49% in March 2008, and has remained the minority view since 2009, with the exception of a May 2010 poll conducted shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In that one survey (not shown in the accompanying graph, but available in the full trends on page 2), Americans' attitudes temporarily shifted toward a preference for protecting the environment.
Gallup's long-term trend on this question, dating from 1984, is available on page 2.
Economic Favoritism Championed by Republicans, Older Men
Democrats alone show majority support for environmental protection among major age, gender, and party groups -- the first time since 2008 that the majority of Democrats have taken the pro-environment stance on this question. Women as well as adults younger than 50 are fairly evenly divided in their views on whether the environment or the economy is more important.
By contrast, two-thirds of Republicans and slim majorities of men and seniors favor prioritizing economic growth. Men aged 50 and older have a strong preference for the economy; among this group, 55% side with economic growth, compared with 37% who are more interested in environmental protection.
Economic Shock May Still Be Dampening U.S. Environmentalism
The decline in Americans' support for prioritizing the environment over the economy starting in 2008 appears related to the onset of the U.S. recession in December 2007. The annualized rate of change in the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell in 2005 and in each subsequent year through 2009, when it descended deep into negative growth territory, at -3.1%, the worst U.S. economic performance in more than half a century. At the same time, Americans' net preference for prioritizing the environment (percentage choosing the environment minus percentage choosing the economy) fell from +18 in March 2007 to +7 in March 2008, -9 in March 2009, and -15 in March 2010.
Since 2009, GDP growth has rebounded to the 1.8% to 2.4% range. Nevertheless -- or perhaps because of the still-subdued nature of U.S. GDP -- net support for prioritizing the environment has remained negative, rising only slightly to -5 in March 2013.
For many Americans, focusing on environmental concerns may seem like a luxury the U.S. cannot afford in tough economic times. This became clear in 2009, when -- for the first time -- more Americans said economic growth should take precedence over protecting the environment when the two goals conflict. While the economy has improved substantially, Americans are still more likely to prioritize economic growth over environmental protection. A majority of Democrats prioritize the environment, but all other groups are either torn between the two or lean toward safeguarding the economy.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.