Environmental Concern Holds Firm During Past Year

by Lydia Saad

Public's concern with attention to environment greater than five years ago

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to Gallup's annual Environment Poll, Americans' views about environmental quality or the need for pro-environmental action barely changed during the past year. Yet given how public concern for other issues -- including energy, healthcare, unemployment, and terrorism -- fell during the same period, it is noteworthy that concern for the environment is holding steady or even rising slightly since March 2006.

One example of this from the Mar. 11-14, 2007, survey is the fact that the environment has reclaimed the top position on Gallup's ranking of what Americans perceive will be the "most important problem" facing the country 25 years from now. This is due in part to a slight increase in the percentage mentioning the environment (from 8% in 2006 to 14% today), but also because the percentages mentioning other issues, such as energy, Social, Security, or the economy, are down compared with the past several years.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most important problem facing our nation 25 years from now? [OPEN-ENDED]

Mar
11-14,
2007

Mar
13-16,
2006

Mar
7-10,
2005

Mar
8-11,
2004

Mar
3-5,
2003

Mar
4-7,
2002

Mar
5-7,
2001

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Environment/pollution

14

8

6

8

9

10

11

Lack of energy sources/energy crisis

8

10

5

2

8

5

7

Social Security

8

10

23

10

5

6

8

Healthcare

8

7

6

6

6

5

3

Terrorism

7

3

4

4

5

5

--

Economy in general

5

8

9

12

14

12

5

The same pattern is seen in the trend of a different question asking respondents to rate their concern about each of 12 different problems facing the country. The percentage of Americans saying they worry "a great deal" about the quality of the environment is essentially the same today as a year ago (43% in 2007 vs. 40% in 2006). However, this contrasts with a downward trend in concern seen for eight other issues. The only issues for which the percentage worried a great deal increased over the past year (albeit not by a statistically significant amount) are crime, the environment, and illegal immigration.

Still, the environment falls within a large group of mid-tier issues people are concerned about, ahead of unemployment and race relations, but below healthcare, Social Security, and crime.

Percentage Worried "A Great Deal" About Each Issue
(Sorted by March 2007 results)

March
2006

March
2007

Change

%

%

 

The availability and affordability of healthcare

68

63

-5

The Social Security system

51

49

-2

Crime and violence

45

48

+3

Illegal immigration

43

45

+2

Drug use

48

45

-3

The quality of the environment

40

43

+3

Hunger and homelessness

43

43

0

The availability and affordability of energy

48

43

-5

The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.

45

41

-4

The economy

43

39

-4

Unemployment

31

25

-6

Race relations

22

19

-3

Americans' ratings of current environmental conditions and respondents' perceptions about the outlook for environmental quality are nearly identical to where they stood a year ago, findings that are consistent with the general stability of public concern about the environment since 2006. Four in 10 Americans continue to rate environmental quality as either "excellent" or "good" and 25% of respondents continue to say the environment is getting better while 67% say it is getting worse.

Environmental Concern Greater Since 2002

The bigger story is the degree to which public concern about the environment has increased over the past four to five years. Since 2002, Gallup has seen substantial increases in the public's belief that the environment needs greater attention.

This is exemplified by a question asking whether extreme or only moderate measures are needed to address the planet's environmental problems. When Gallup last asked this question in 2003, only 23% of Americans said "immediate and drastic action" was required. Today that figure stands at 38%.

(Public opinion has been here before; a 1995 Gallup survey found support for drastic action similar to where it is today. However, current attitudes are a clear shift from the first few years under the Bush administration.)

The accompanying table summarizes the five-year comparison in several of the environmental attitudes tracked in Gallup's annual Environment survey. As this shows, public concern has increased by seven to 13 points over this period.

Summary of Environmental Attitudes -- 2002 vs. Now

March 2002

March 2007

Change

%

%

 

Environmental quality "getting worse"

54

67

+13

Immediate, drastic action needed

26

38

+12

Worried "a great deal" about environment

35

43

+8

Environmental conditions "only fair/poor"

52

59

+7

Environment Sparks Differences Among Demographics

Women tend to be a bit more concerned than are men about the quality of the environment, as Gallup finds that 48% of women say they worry "a great deal" about the environment, versus 37% of men saying the same thing. Women are also more likely than men to say that environmental conditions are getting worse, 73% to 61%.

Some differences are also noted by age. Though younger and older Americans are similar in their evaluations of current environmental conditions, older Americans are significantly less likely than those under 65 to believe immediate and drastic action is required to address the issue.

Perceptions of Approach Needed to Solve Environmental Problems
By Age

18- to 49-
year-olds

50- to 64-
year-olds

65 years old
or older

2007 Mar 11-14

%

%

%

Immediate, drastic action required

40

42

27

Take some additional actions

48

46

51

Continue same actions as taking now

12

12

16

No opinion

*

1

5

* Less than 0.5%

However, Gallup finds the greatest differences between partisan groups. Democrats are roughly twice as likely a Republicans to worry a great deal about the environment (53% vs. 28%) and to perceive environmental quality as deteriorating (87% vs. 44%). Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to consider current environmental conditions to be in only fair or poor shape (75% vs. 33%) and to call for immediate and drastic action to address environmental problems (47% vs. 19%).

Independents generally fall halfway between Republicans and Democrats in their views on issues, but not on the environment -- Gallup finds independents much closer to the Democratic end of the spectrum in regard to environmental issues.

Summary of Environmental Concern
By Party ID

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

2007 Mar 11-14

%

%

%

Environmental conditions are "getting worse"

44

71

87

Environmental conditions are "only fair/poor"

33

69

75

Worry "a great deal" about quality of the environment

28

47

53

Immediate, drastic action needed to address environmental problems

19

46

47

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Mar. 11-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. 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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