Smaller Majorities in U.S. Favor Gov't Pollution Controls

Smaller Majorities in U.S. Favor Gov't Pollution Controls

by Frank Newport

Support is down from 2007 and before

PRINCETON, NJ -- More than six in 10 Americans favor setting higher emissions and pollution standards for business and industry, and imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. The percentages favoring these actions, however, are lower than in 2007 and prior years.

Trend: Support for Two Emissions Proposals

This latest update is from Gallup's annual Environment survey, conducted March 6-9, 2014, in which Americans were asked to indicate whether they favored or opposed nine specific energy or environmental proposals, including two relating to higher emissions standards for business and controls on carbon dioxide emissions. The complete trends on these two questions are on page 2.

The poll was conducted prior to the Obama administration's announcement this week of a series of proposed carbon dioxide emissions cuts for the nation's existing power plants. The power plant and coal industries have reacted negatively to the proposed new rules, and politicians and political candidates from coal-producing states have been publicly critical of the potential economic effects.

Gallup has included these two questions about emissions in its annual environmental surveys off and on since 2001. Between 2007 and 2012, support for the two actions dropped by 14 points each. This year, support has dropped still further on both questions. Two major events occurred between 2007 and 2012 that could help explain the change -- the recession and Barack Obama's election as president. Americans generally are less supportive of environmental controls when the economic environment becomes troubled, and some Americans may be less likely to favor government regulation of the environment when a Democrat, rather than a Republican, is in office.

Still, even with the downtick in support, more than six in 10 Americans continue to support both ideas, suggesting that the reaction of the general public to Obama's newly promulgated standards will most likely be more positive than negative. About three-quarters of Democrats support both proposals, and although Republicans are less positive, about half still say they favor each.

Given a Choice, Americans Tilt Toward the Environment Over Energy Production

A separate trend question Gallup has tracked each year since 2001 asks Americans to say whether the government should prioritize environmental protection "even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies such as oil, gas, and coal" or favoring the development of U.S. energy supplies "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

Support for these two alternatives has fluctuated over the years. Americans were generally more supportive of the environment through 2008, but then became comparatively more supportive of the energy production alternative through last year. This year, Americans again are more likely to prioritize the environment.

Trend: Energy Production vs. Environmental Protection

Political differences on this question are quite stark, with Democrats clearly emphasizing the environment, while Republicans emphasize energy.

Environment vs. Energy Tradeoff, by Party Identification, March 2014


Obama's recent executive actions proposing significantly stricter carbon pollution standards on energy-producing plants appear to be generally in tune with majority public opinion. Americans favor setting higher emissions and pollution standards on business and imposing mandatory controls on carbon emissions, and at this point tilt toward actions that would protect the environment even at the cost of some traditional oil, gas, and coal production.

The argument against new emissions standards is that they would ultimately require the American public to pay more for energy, that they would cost American jobs, and that they would have relatively little impact on global warming. These alternatives are not addressed directly in the trend questions reviewed here, and it is possible that when presented with specific tradeoff costs of setting higher carbon pollution standards, support would be lower.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 6-9, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,048 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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 time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. 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.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Trend: Support for Setting Higher Emissions and Pollution Standards for Business and Industry

Trend: Support for Imposing Mandatory Controls on Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Other Greenhouse Gases

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