Polluted Drinking Water Is Public's Top Environmental Concern

by Joseph Carroll

Concern about global warming inching up

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As the country celebrates Earth Day this year, Gallup's recent Environment Poll updated its annual data on Americans' personal worries about environmental problems facing the country at this time. As has typically been the case, the public is most worried with issues relating to the nation's water supply, particularly polluted drinking water. Global warming concerns have gradually increased over the past two years, and are now at their highest level ever, although not significantly higher than in past years. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to express concern about all of these environmental problems.

Overall Results

The March 11-14, 2007 poll asked Americans if they personally worry a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all about 10 different environmental problems. A majority of Americans say they worry "a great deal" about four different environment problems involving water: 58% are concerned about pollution of drinking water; 53% worry about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs; 52% are concerned about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste; and 51% worry a great deal about the maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs.

At least 4 in 10 Americans say they worry a great deal about air pollution (46%), damage to the earth's ozone layer (43%), the loss of tropical rain forests (43%), and the "greenhouse effect" or global warming (41%). Thirty-nine percent of Americans worry about the extinction of plant and animal species. Only 25% of Americans worry a great deal about acid rain.

 

Environmental Worries,
March 11-14, 2007,
(based on the percentage saying they worry a "great deal" about each problem)

 

%

Pollution of drinking water

58

Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

53

Contamination of soil and water by toxic waste

52

Maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs

51

Air pollution

46

Damage to the earth's ozone layer

43

The loss of tropical rain forests

43

The "greenhouse effect" or global warming

41

Extinction of plant and animal species

39

Acid rain

25

Environmental Worries Trends

Overall, Americans' concern about global warming has not generally shown much fluctuation since Gallup first asked the question in 1989. Still, concerns about global warming are up slightly this year and are at their highest level recorded by Gallup (albeit by only one percentage point). In 1989, roughly one in three Americans worried a great deal about global warming. This sentiment decreased in the mid-1990s, falling to as low as 24% in 1997. Then, concerns gradually increased over the next few years, reaching 40% in 2000 before dropping again during the earlier part of this decade. But, worry has been on the rise again in the past two years, with about 4 in 10 Americans expressing a great deal of worry about the issue.

Americans are slightly more likely now than last year to say they worry a great deal about the extinction of plant and animal species. In 2006, 34% of Americans said they worry about this problem, five points lower than in the latest poll. Americans expressed a higher level of concern, 45%, when Gallup included this problem in its 2000 survey.

The 51% of Americans who say they are worried about the maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs is also at its highest point. But, it is not significantly higher than it was last year or at other times in the past seven years that Gallup has asked this question.

The latest poll finds little change over the past few years in Americans' concerns about drinking water pollution, the pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, toxic waste contamination, air pollution, ozone layer damage, tropical rain forest loss, or acid rain.

Partisan Views of Environmental Problems

Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say they worry a great deal about each of the 10 environmental problems listed in the poll. Water quality issues are the top concern for both Democrats and Republicans, but with roughly 6 in 10 Democrats and just over 4 in 10 Republicans worrying a great deal about problems with water.

 

Environmental Worries by Party Affiliation
March 11-14, 2007
(based on the percentage saying they worry a "great deal" about each problem)

 

Dems.

Inds.

Reps.

 

%

%

%

Pollution of drinking water

68

60

46

Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

65

53

42

Maintaining the supply of fresh water for households

60

53

41

Contamination of soil and water by toxic waste

59

54

43

Air pollution

59

47

32

Damage to the earth's ozone layer

57

45

29

The "greenhouse effect" or global warming

55

45

24

The loss of tropical rain forests

50

47

32

Extinction of plant and animal species

47

42

28

Acid rain

32

26

17

NOTE: Dems. refers to those who describe themselves as Democrats. Inds. refers to those who describe themselves as independents. Reps. refers to those who describe themselves as Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans differ most significantly in their concerns about global warming -- 55% of Democrats and only 24% of Republicans worry a great deal about this issue.

The percentage of Democrats who say they worry about global warming is the highest Gallup has recorded since 1989, with concern up six points since last year, and 23 points since 2004. The current result is also substantially higher than the 40% average worry level for this group that Gallup has measured. By comparison, Republicans' concern about global warming is up 8 points since last year and 11 points since 2004, but remains lower than they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

According to the latest poll, there is at least a 20-point gap between Democrats' and Republicans' worries about damage to the ozone layer (57% vs. 29%), air pollution (59% vs. 32%), pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (65% vs. 42%), and drinking water pollution (68% vs. 46%).

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 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.

22. I'm going to read you a list of environmental problems. As I read each one, please tell me if you personally worry about this problem a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all. First, how much do you personally worry about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

53

31

13

3

--

2006 Mar 13-16

51

33

11

5

*

2004 Mar 8-11

48

31

16

5

*

2003 Mar 3-5

51

31

13

5

--

2002 Mar 4-7

53

32

12

3

*

2001 Mar 5-7

58

29

10

3

*

2000 Apr 3-9

66

24

8

2

*

1999 Apr 13-14

61

30

7

2

*

1999 Mar 12-14

55

30

12

3

*

1991 Apr 11-14

67

21

8

3

1

1990 Apr 5-8

64

23

9

4

--

1989 May 4-7

72

19

5

3

1

* = Less than 0.5%

B. Air pollution

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

46

33

15

5

*

2006 Mar 13-16

44

34

15

7

*

2004 Mar 8-11

39

30

23

8

*

2003 Mar 3-5

42

32

20

6

*

2002 Mar 4-7

45

33

18

4

*

2001 Mar 5-7

48

34

14

4

*

2000 Apr 3-9

59

29

9

3

*

1999 Apr 13-14

52

35

10

3

*

1999 Mar 12-14

47

33

16

4

*

1997 Oct 27-28

42

34

18

5

1

1991 Apr 11-14

59

28

10

4

*

1990 Apr 5-8

58

29

9

4

*

1989 May 4-7

63

24

8

4

*

* = Less than 0.5%

C. Damage to the earth's ozone layer

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

43

27

19

11

*

2006 Mar 13-16

40

28

19

13

*

2004 Mar 8-11

33

27

26

14

*

2003 Mar 3-5

35

31

21

12

1

2002 Mar 4-7

38

29

21

11

1

2001 Mar 5-7

47

28

16

8

1

2000 Apr 3-9

49

29

14

7

1

1999 Apr 13-14

44

32

15

8

1

1997 Oct 27-28

33

27

25

13

2

1991 Apr 11-14

49

24

16

8

4

1990 Apr 5-8

43

28

15

10

4

1989 May 4-7

51

26

13

8

2

* = Less than 0.5%

D. The loss of tropical rain forests

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

43

30

17

10

1

2006 Mar 13-16

40

24

22

13

1

2004 Mar 8-11

35

26

23

15

1

2003 Mar 3-5

39

29

21

11

*

2002 Mar 4-7

38

27

21

12

2

2001 Mar 5-7

44

32

15

8

1

2000 Apr 3-9

51

25

14

9

1

1999 Apr 13-14

49

30

14

6

1

1991 Apr 11-14

42

25

21

10

2

1990 Apr 5-8

40

24

19

14

3

1989 May 4-7

42

25

18

12

3

* = Less than 0.5%

E. The "greenhouse effect" or global warming

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

41

24

18

16

1

2006 Mar 13-16

36

26

21

15

1

2004 Mar 8-11

26

25

28

19

2

2003 Mar 3-5

28

30

23

17

2

2002 Mar 4-7

29

29

23

17

2

2001 Mar 5-7

33

30

22

13

2

2000 Apr 3-9

40

32

15

12

1

1999 Apr 13-14

34

34

18

12

2

1999 Mar 12-14

28

31

23

16

2

1997 Oct 27-28

24

26

29

17

4

1991 Apr 11-14

35

27

22

12

5

1990 Apr 5-8

30

27

20

16

6

1989 May 4-7

35

28

18

12

7

F. Contamination of soil and water by toxic waste

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

52

28

13

7

*

2006 Mar 13-16

52

29

13

6

*

2004 Mar 8-11

48

26

21

5

*

2003 Mar 3-5

51

28

16

5

*

2002 Mar 4-7

53

29

15

3

*

2001 Mar 5-7

58

27

12

3

*

2000 Apr 3-9

64

25

7

4

*

1999 Apr 13-14

63

27

7

3

*

1999 Mar 12-14

55

29

11

5

*

1991 Apr 11-14

62

21

11

5

1

1990 Apr 5-8

63

22

10

5

*

1989 May 4-7

69

21

6

3

*

* = Less than 0.5%

G. Acid rain

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

25

25

28

20

1

2006 Mar 13-16

24

28

24

23

1

2004 Mar 8-11

20

26

27

26

1

2003 Mar 3-5

24

26

27

21

2

2002 Mar 4-7

25

23

31

19

2

2001 Mar 5-7

28

28

26

16

2

2000 Apr 3-9

34

31

19

15

1

1999 Apr 13-14

29

35

23

11

2

1991 Apr 11-14

34

30

20

14

3

1990 Apr 5-8

34

30

18

14

4

1989 May 4-7

41

27

19

11

3

H. Pollution of drinking water

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

58

24

12

5

*

2006 Mar 13-16

54

27

12

7

*

2004 Mar 8-11

53

24

17

6

*

2003 Mar 3-5

54

25

15

6

--

2002 Mar 4-7

57

25

13

5

*

2001 Mar 5-7

64

24

9

3

*

2000 Apr 3-9

72

20

6

2

*

1999 Apr 13-14

68

22

7

3

*

1991 Apr 11-4

67

19

10

3

1

1990 Apr 5-8

65

22

9

4

*

* = Less than 0.5%

I. Extinction of plant and animal species

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

39

30

19

12

*

2006 Mar 13-16

34

29

23

14

1

2004 Mar 8-11

36

26

23

15

*

2003 Mar 3-5

34

32

21

12

1

2002 Mar 4-7

35

30

22

12

1

2001 Mar 5-7

43

30

19

7

1

2000 Apr 3-9

45

33

14

8

*

* = Less than 0.5%

J. Maintenance of the nation's supply of fresh water for household needs

 

 

Great deal

Fair amount

Only a little

Not at all

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Mar 11-14

51

27

16

5

*

2006 Mar 13-16

49

27

14

9

1

2004 Mar 8-11

47

25

20

8

*

2003 Mar 3-5

49

28

15

8

*

2002 Mar 4-7

50

28

17

5

*

2001 Mar 5-7

35

34

19

10

2

2000 Apr 3-9

42

31

14

12

1

* = Less than 0.5%

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27274/Polluted-Drinking-Water-Publics-Top-Environmental-Concern.aspx
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