Americans Still Committed to Environmental Protection, but Less Concerned Than Last Year

by Lydia Saad

No change in basic public sympathy for environmental movement

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Over 30 years after the first Earth Day was organized in 1970, environmental activists around the world still take part in rallies, protests, fairs and other grassroots events to try to call attention to their concerns on the subject. So just how exercised is the average American on the environment?

According to Gallup's annual survey on the environment, conducted March 4-7 this year, public concern about the environment over the past year has gone the way of concern about crime, homelessness, drugs and a number of other issues -- which is to say that concern about the environment has fallen off. Public anxiety about these issues seems to have been diffused by the new importance of terrorism as a problem. In March 2001, 42% of Americans told Gallup that they personally worried "a great deal" about the quality of the environment, but today this number is 35%. Over the same period, the ranks of those saying they have only a little or no concern have increased from 22% to 33%.

Concern About the Environment

Despite this decline in Americans' short-term concern about the environment, there has been no corresponding change in their general orientation toward the environmental movement. Roughly the same percentage today as in 2001 say they are active in or sympathetic to the movement, with seven in 10 Americans falling into these pro-environment categories.

Relationship to Environmental Movement
March 4-7, 2002

There has also been no change since 2001 in Americans' assessment of the seriousness of environmental problems, as measured by this question:

All in all, which of the following best describes how you feel about the environmental problems facing the earth -- life on earth will continue without major environmental disruptions only if we take additional, immediate, and drastic action concerning the environment, we should take some additional actions concerning the environment, or, we should take just the same actions we have been taking on the environment?

Only 14% believe the current level of environmental action is sufficient to care for the environment while about twice that number, 26%, believe immediate and drastic action is necessary. The majority of Americans (58%) take a middle-of-the road position on this question, saying that "some" additional actions are required.

Preserving the Environment Still Prevails Over Economic Growth

One question in Gallup's 2002 Earth Day survey asks Americans how they believe environmental and economic interests should be balanced when the two interests conflict. To varying degrees, Americans have historically chosen the environment as the issue that should take precedence.

This year, as well as last, Gallup finds relatively low support for putting environmental protection ahead of economic growth, most likely due to the slowdown in the nation's economy. Today only 54% say protection of the environment should be given priority over economic growth, down slightly from 57% last year and from 70% in January 2000. The highest support for the environment on this measure, which was initiated in 1984, was 71%, recorded in 1990 and 1991.

At 36%, the percentage today opting for the economy over the environment on this measure is the highest in Gallup's trend.

Which Issue Should Take Priority?

Americans' reaction to the tradeoff between energy production and environmental protection -- an issue relevant to the current debate over opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration -- is similar to that for the economy/environment choice. A slim majority (52%) says protection of the environment should prevail over the development of U.S. energy supplies, while 40% believe that energy should be the priority. This is unchanged from last year.

A Problem for the Future

A pair of open-ended questions reveals why there may be such a disparity between Americans' sympathy for the environmental movement on one hand, and their relatively low levels of personal concern about the environment on the other. The key finding may be that the public sees this as a problem for the future, not the present. One question asks respondents to name the most important problem facing the country today; the second asks them to forecast the nation's top problem in 25 years.

When asked to name the most important problem facing the country today, only 2% of Americans mention the environment. When asked to forecast the nation's top problem in 25 years, however, the percentage mentioning the environment jumps to 10%. Thus, while the environment ties for 12th on the list of perceived current problems, it ranks second on the list of problems Americans see headed in their direction in the next two to three decades, just behind the economy.

2002 Mar 4-7

(sorted by "Most Important Problem Today")


Most Important Problem Today

Most Important Problem 25 Years from Now



Difference

%

%

%

1

Terrorism

22

5

-17

2

Economy in general

18

12

-6

3

Fear of war

12

7

-5

4

Unemployment/jobs

8

5

-3

5

Education

7

6

-1

6

Ethics/morals

7

5

-2

7

Health care

6

5

-1

8

National security

6

3

-3

9

Poverty/homelessness

4

4

0

10

Dissatisfaction with government/politicians

4

3

-1

11

Drugs

3

1

-2

12

Environment

2

10

+8

13

International issues/foreign affairs

2

3

+1

14

Youth-related problems

2

2

0

15

Immigration/illegal aliens

2

1

-1

16

Medicare/Soc. Sec.

1

6

+5

17

Lack of energy sources

1

5

+4

18

Care for the elderly

1

3

+2

19

Taxes

1

1

0

20

High cost of living/inflation

1

1

0

21

Crime/violence

1

1

0

22

Racism/race relations

1

1

0

23

Lack of respect for each other

1

1

0

24

Welfare

1

*

-1

25

Survival of the planet /Humanity

0

2

+2

26

Trade relations/deficit

0

1

+1

27

Advancement of computers/technology

0

1

+1

28

Overpopulation

*

7

+7

* Less than 0.5%

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 4-7, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 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.

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended]

Mar
4-7,
'02

Feb.
4-6,
'02

Jan
7-9,
'02

Dec
6-9,
'01

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

29%

40%

33%

30%

1

Economy in general

18

24

21

19

2

Unemployment/jobs

8

11

8

9

3

Taxes

1

1

2

1

4

Recession

1

3

2

1

5

High cost of living/inflation

1

*

*

1

6

Federal budget deficit/federal debt

1

*

--

7

Wage issues

*

*

*

*

8

Gap between rich and poor

*

*

*

*

9

Fuel/Oil Prices

*

--

*

*

NON-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

75%

69%

68%

75%

1

Terrorism

22

24

23

24

2

Fear of war/feelings of fear in this country

12

9

8

17

3

Education/poor education/access to education

7

5

6

5

4

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

7

6

6

8

5

National security

6

8

4

6

6

Poor health care/ hospitals; high cost of health care

6

3

3

2

7

Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness

4

3

3

4

8

Dissatisfaction with government/ Congress/ politicians/ candidates; Poor leadership; corruption

4

3

4

4

9

Drugs

3

2

2

1

10

International issues/ problems

2

2

*

2

11

Environment/ pollution

2

*

1

1

12

Immigration/illegal aliens

2

2

2

2

13

Children's behavior/way they are raised

2

1

1

2

14

Crime/violence

1

2

2

1

15

Care for the elderly

1

1

1

*

16

Judicial system/courts/laws

1

*

*

*

17

Race relations/ racism

1

2

1

2

18

Welfare

1

1

1

*

19

Lack of respect for each other

1

1

1

1

20

Medicare/Social Security issues

1

2

*

1

21

Lack of energy sources; the energy crisis

1

1

*

*

22

Lack of Money

*

--

2

1

23

Abortion

*

*

*

*

24

The media

*

1

1

1

25

Foreign aid/focus overseas

*

1

1

1

26

Child abuse

*

*

*

*

27

Unifying the country

*

*

3

1

28

School shootings/school violence

*

--

--

*

29

Overpopulation

*

*

*

*

Lack of military defense

--

1

*

1

AIDS

--

*

--

*

Guns/gun control

--

*

*

*

Losing personal freedoms because of war

--

--

--

--

Other non-economic

2

4

5

6

No opinion

4

4

3

3

Total

122%

130%

109%

128%

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

2002 Mar 4-7

2001 Mar 5-7

2000 Apr 3-9

%

%

%

1

Economy in general

12

5

3

2

Environment

10

11

14

3

Fear of war

7

4

2

4

Overpopulation

7

6

6

5

Education

6

6

6

6

Medicare/Soc. Sec.

6

8

4

7

Health care

5

3

3

8

Terrorism

5

--

--

9

Unemployment/jobs

5

3

2

10

Lack of energy sources

5

7

1

11

Ethics/moral/family decline/children not raised right

5

6

8

12

Poverty/homelessness

4

4

3

13

National Security

3

1

--

14

Care for the elderly

3

4

3

15

Intern'l issues/foreign affairs

3

4

2

16

Dissatisfaction with gov't/politicians

3

3

2

17

Federal budget deficit/federal debt

2

3

1

18

Youth/teen pregnancy/children's needs/children's behavior

2

3

3

19

Survival of the planet/Humanity

2

--

--

20

Taxes

1

1

1

21

High cost of living/inflation

1

1

2

22

Trade relations/deficit

1

*

1

23

Crime/violence

1

6

6

24

Immigration/illegal aliens

1

1

*

25

Racism/race relations

1

1

3

26

Drugs

1

2

3

27

Advancement of computers/technology

1

3

3

28

Lack of respect for each other

1

*

--

29

Welfare

*

*

*

30

Unifying the country

*

*

--

31

Judicial system/courts/laws

*

*

1

32

AIDS

*

*

*

33

Guns/gun control

*

2

1

34

Child abuse

*

--

*

35

School shootings/school violence

*

*

*

36

Cancer

*

--

--

37

Gap between rich and poor

*

1

*

38

Fuel/Oil Prices

--

1

2

39

Military/Defense issues

--

1

1

40

Recession

--

1

--

41

Wage issues

--

*

0

42

The media

--

*

--

43

Abortion

--

--

*

Other non-economic

3

2

11

Other specific economic

--

2

1

No opinion

12

16

13

Total

119%

122%

112%

Totals add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.
* Less than 0.5%

Next I'm going to read a list of problems facing the country. For 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. Hunger and homelessness

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

37%

30

26

7

*

2001 Mar 5-7

45%

34

16

5

*



B. Crime and violence

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

49%

27

20

4

0

2001 Mar 5-7

62%

26

9

3

*



C. The quality of the environment

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

35%

31

27

6

1

2001 Mar 5-7

42%

35

17

5

1



D. The availability and affordability of health care

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

56%

23

14

7

*

2001 Mar 5-7

60%

24

11

5

*



E. Drug use

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

49%

22

19

9

1

2001 Mar 5-7

58%

22

13

7

*



F. Race relations

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

23%

25

30

21

1

2001 Mar 5-7

28%

34

23

15

*



G. Illegal immigration

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

33%

25

26

16

*

2001 Mar 5-7

28%

24

29

18

1



H. The availability and affordability of energy

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

32%

30

29

9

*

2001 Mar 5-7

46%

31

16

6

1



I. The economy

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

37%

36

21

6

*

2001 Mar 5-7

35%

42

19

4

*



J. Unemployment

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

33%

30

25

12

*

2001 Mar 5-7

30%

33

24

13

*



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

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

49%

26

20

5

*

* Less than 0.5%



SUMMARY TABLE: CONCERN ABOUT NATIONAL ISSUES

 


2002 Mar 4-7
(sorted by "a great deal")


Great
deal


Fair
amount

Only a
little/
Not at all

%

%

%

The availability and affordability of health care

56

23

21

Crime and violence

49

27

24

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

49

26

25

Drug use

49

22

28

The economy

37

36

27

Hunger and homelessness

37

30

33

The quality of the environment

35

31

33

Unemployment

33

30

37

Illegal immigration

33

25

42

The availability and affordability of energy

32

30

38

Race relations

23

25

51



Thinking specifically about the environmental movement, do you think of yourself as – an active participant in the environmental movement, sympathetic towards the movement, but not active, neutral, or unsympathetic towards the environmental movement?

 

Active participant

Sympathetic, but not active

Neutral


Unsympathetic

No opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

19%

51

24

5

1

2001 Mar 5-7

18%

50

25

5

2

2000 Apr 3-9

16%

55

23

5

1



With which one of these statements about the environment and the economy do you most agree – [ROTATED: protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth (or) economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent]?

 

Protection of the environment

Economic growth

EQUAL PRIORITY (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Mar 4-7

54

36

5

5

2001 Mar 5-7

57

33

6

4

2000 Apr 3-9

67

28

2

3

2000 Jan 13-16

70

23

--

7

1999 Apr 13-14

67

28

--

5

1999 Mar 12-14

65

30

--

5

1998 Apr 17-19

68

24

--

8

1997 Jul 25-27

66

27

--

7

1995 Apr 17-19

62

32

--

6

1992 Jan 5-Mar 31

58

26

8

8

1991 Apr

71

20

--

9

1990 Apr

71

19

--

10

1984 Sep

61

28

--

11

(vol.) Volunteered response



All in all, which of the following best describes how you feel about the environmental problems facing the earth -- life on earth will continue without major environmental disruptions only if we take additional, immediate, and drastic action concerning the environment, we should take some additional actions concerning the environment, or, we should take just the same actions we have been taking on the environment?

 


Immediate, drastic action

Some
additional actions


Same
actions


No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

26%

58

14

2

2001 Mar 5-7

27%

56

15

2

1995 Apr 17-19

35%

48

15

2



With which one of these statements about the environment and energy production do you most agree – [ROTATED: protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies -- such as oil, gas and coal -- which the United States produces (or) development of U.S. energy supplies -- such as oil, gas and coal -- should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent]?

 


Protection
of the environment

Development of U.S. energy supplies



BOTH/
EQUALLY (vol.)



NEITHER/
OTHER (vol.)



No
opinion

2002 Mar 4-7

52%

40

3

2

3

2001 Mar 5-7

52%

36

6

2

4

(vol.) Volunteered response



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