Americans on Bush's Environmental Policy

by Chris McComb, Senior Staff Writer

Since the Bush administration took office, it has been battling to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. With the House of Representatives' passage of an energy bill Friday that opens the refuge to oil companies, the administration could be a step closer to achieving its goals. However, the administration has yet to accomplish this task, as the House bill needs to be reconciled with Senate legislation that doesn't open ANWR. How does the American public feel about the Bush administration's environmental efforts overall?

Opinion Split on Bush's Work to Protect the Nation's Environment

There is no clear consensus from Americans regarding their evaluations of the Bush administration's efforts to protect the nation's environment, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in March 2003*. The percentage who believe Bush is doing a good job is nearly equal to the percentage saying they believe he's doing a poor job (44% and 43%, respectively). Opinions about this issue have shifted in a negative direction since last year, when 50% thought Bush was doing a good job and 38% said he was doing a poor job. The current level is the lowest of Bush's administration, but not much lower than the 51% high mark from March 2001.

Americans' views are somewhat more negative when they are asked to assess the current level of governmental activity on the environment. A slight majority of Americans, 51%, believe that the federal government is doing "too little" to protect the environment. Thirty-seven percent feel it's doing about the right amount, and 7% believe that it's doing too much.

While the government's rating on this issue is not exceptional relative to those of the past few years, its environmental efforts are perceived in a much more positive light than they were when Gallup first asked this question in early 1992, as George H.W. Bush's administration was winding down. At that time, a substantially larger proportion of Americans (68%) believed that the government was doing too little to protect the environment and only 26% said it was doing about the right amount. By April 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, the percentage feeling that the government was doing too little had decreased to 58%, with 30% saying it was doing about the right amount.

When asked to assess the state of environmental policies since George W. Bush took office, a slight majority of Americans (53%) say that the nation's environmental protection policies have "stayed about the same." Thirty-five percent feel the nation's environmental policies have been weakened under Bush, while 9% feel they have been strengthened.

Party Identification and Opinions About the Environment

Environmental perspectives tend to vary according to political party affiliation. A slight majority of Republicans (52%) believes that the federal government is doing the right amount to protect the environment, while majorities of Democrats and independents believe that it does too little (64% and 59%, respectively). Similarly, about 7 in 10 Republicans (69%) think Bush is doing a good job protecting the environment, compared with 36% of independents and 25% of Democrats. This segmentation is not remarkable, given that members of the prevailing party tend to rate measures of the administration on all measures more favorably than those in the minority party do.

Opinions also vary by gender and geographic region. Men and those living in the South and Midwest are somewhat more likely than average to say they government is doing the right amount of work to protect the environment. Those living in the Western United States are somewhat less likely than average to say they are satisfied.

Bottom Line

The Bush administration has had a number of issues with higher profiles than environmental concerns -- such as terrorism, the economy, and the war with Iraq -- to contend with over the past two years. While nearly 4 in 10 Americans say the government is doing too little to protect the environment, this is the lowest percentage Gallup has recorded in its three measurements on this dating back to 1992. And while some have criticized Bush's policies on the environment, the public is divided in its assessment of the job he is doing on the environment.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 3-5, 2003. 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%.

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