Environmental Concern Down This Earth Day

by Lydia Saad

Economic woes may be the cause

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to Gallup's annual Environment/Earth Day poll, conducted March 3-5, Americans grew more negative over the past year about the quality of the environment in the United States. At the same time, they also became less likely to favor aggressive action to correct environmental problems. An important reason for this incongruity in environmental views appears to be Americans' heightened worries about the U.S. economy, although the situation with Iraq could also be a factor.

The percentage of Americans who evaluate the U.S. economy positively -- calling it "excellent" or "good" -- has inched downward each of the last two years, from 46% in March 2001 to 44% in March 2002, and to 41% in March 2003. Over the same period, the outlook on the environment has fluctuated, with the percentage saying it is "getting better" rising from 36% in 2001 to 40% in 2002, and then dropping to 33% this year.

Quality of the Environment in the United States

The net result of these findings is that the percentage holding a negative view of environmental conditions increased sharply over the past year, from 38% in 2002 to 47% today. (This is the percentage of Americans who simultaneously think environmental conditions are "poor" and staying that way or "only fair" but worsening.)

Summary of Americans' Environmental Attitudes

Despite this change in Americans' impressions about environmental conditions, the public appears less willing than in the past to support strong environmental protection measures.

One of the most striking findings in the Environment/Earth Day poll comes from a question that asks Americans whether environmental protection or economic growth should be given priority when the two interests conflict. Since first asked in 1984, this has been a key Gallup indicator of public sympathy toward the environmental movement. This year's results show the lowest percentage ever recorded of Americans choosing environmental protection. Just 47% say protection of the environment should be given priority, while nearly as many (42%) say economic growth should take priority.

Last year, the margin in favor of the environment on this question was much stronger: 54% vs. 36%. But even that was low by historical standards. For most of the 1990s, the public sided with the environment over the economy by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

With which one of these statements about the environment and the economy do you most agree – 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?

Consistent with this finding, Gallup also records a slight decline in the percentage of Americans who believe additional action is needed to prevent any major environmental disruptions. Over the past year, the percentage saying "immediate, drastic action" or "some additional action" is needed fell from 84% to 79%. At the same time, the percentage believing "we should take just the same actions we have been taking on the environment" rose from 14% to 20%.

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?

The Economic Factor

Americans have developed a great deal of economic apprehension over the past two years, and this may largely explain the recent drop in their environmental concern. A year ago at this time, a quarter of Americans were upbeat about the economy (rating it "excellent" or "good" and expecting it to remain that way), about a third had mixed views, and another third were negative (rating the economy "poor," or "only fair" but getting worse). Today, nearly two-thirds are negative, while only 12% are upbeat.

Summary of Americans' Economic Attitudes

The percentage of Americans saying they worry "a great deal" about the economy increased from 37% in 2002 to 44% this year -- the largest jump in worry seen for any of 11 different issues rated. Concern about the environment has remained about the same, with 34% to 35% of Americans in both 2002 and 2003 saying they worry a great deal.

 

Worry "Great Deal" About Each Problem

 

2002

2003

Change

%

%

The economy

37

44

+7

Illegal immigration

33

37

+4

Unemployment

33

36

+3

Possibility of future terrorist attacks in U.S.

49

49

0

Hunger and homelessness

37

37

0

Availability and affordability of healthcare

56

55

-1

Quality of the environment

35

34

-1

Race relations

23

22

-1

Crime and violence

49

45

-4

The availability and affordability of energy

32

27

-5

Drug use

49

42

-7



Environment No Longer Seen as Top Long-Term Problem

Punctuating these findings, Gallup finds a strong reversal in what was once a traditional pattern of public perception about long-term U.S. problems. In the past, Gallup found relatively few Americans naming the environment when asked, "what do you think is the most important problem facing this country today," but a big jump in environmental mentions when the question is, "what do you think will be the most important problem facing our nation 25 years from now?" In fact, the environment is typically the most frequently mentioned problem on the 25-year outlook measure. This year, the economy is the clear leader and the environment ranks second. Last year, the two problems were closely rated, but the environment had led by significant margins before that.

Most Important Problem in 25 Years?

In the March poll, a combined 54% of Americans named war, terrorism, or other international problems as the top problem facing the United States today. But relatively few named these as long-term problems for the country (a combined 16%), similar to the 15% in March 2002. These figures are just slightly higher than the 8% in March 2001 (prior to Sept. 11) -- suggesting that the new international challenges the United States faces from terrorism and the war with Iraq are not strongly affecting Americans' long-term views of the country. This is particularly interesting when contrasted with the sharp increase since 2001 in long-term concerns about the economy.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 3-5, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects 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.

How would you rate the overall quality of the environment in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

 

 

Excellent

Good

Only
fair

Poor

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

5

36

48

10

1

2002 Mar 4-7

4

43

45

7

1

2001 Mar 5-7

5

41

47

6

1



 

 

Right now, do you think the quality of the environment in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse?

 

 

Getting
better

Getting
worse

SAME
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

33

57

8

2

2002 Mar 4-7

40

54

4

2

2001 Mar 5-7

36

57

5

2



ENVIRONMENTAL OUTLOOK GROUPS

 

Positive

Mixed

Negative

Un-
designated

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

27

23

47

3

2002 Mar 4-7

29

31

38

2

2001 Mar 5-7

24

34

39

3



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]?

 


Environment

Economic
growth

EQUAL PRIORITY (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

47

42

7

4

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



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
action


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

23

56

20

1

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]?

 

Envir-
onment

Develop-ment of
U.S. energy supplies

BOTH/
EQUALLY (vol.)

NEITHER/
OTHER (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

49

40

5

2

4

2002 Mar 4-7

52

40

3

2

3

2001 Mar 5-7

52

36

6

2

4



How serious would you say the energy situation is in the United States--very serious, fairly serious, or not at all serious?

 

Very
serious

Fairly
serious

Not at all
serious

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

28

59

11

2

2002 Mar 4-7

22

63

12

3

2001 Jun 28-Jul 1

47

43

8

2

2001 May 7-9

58

36

4

2

2001 Mar 5-7

31

59

9

1

1991 Feb 7-10

40

44

14

2

1990 Sep 27-30

32

46

19

3

1990 Sep 10-11

28

48

21

3

1990 Aug 9-12

28

45

23

4

1979 Aug 3-6

47

35

16

3

1979 Jun 1-4

37

36

24

3

1979 Apr 27-May 4

44

36

16

4

1979 Feb 23-26

43

42

13

2

1978 Mar 31-Apr 3

41

39

15

5

1977 Nov 18-21

40

42

14

4

1977 Sep 30-Oct 3

40

40

16

4

1977 Aug 5-8

38

43

13

6

1977 Jun 3-6

40

42

13

5

1977 Apr 29-May 2

44

40

11

5

1977 Apr 1-4

41

39

16

4



Which of the following approaches to solving the nation's energy problems do you think the U.S. should follow right now – [ROTATED: emphasize production of more oil, gas and coal supplies (or) emphasize more conservation by consumers of existing energy supplies]?

 


More
production


More conser-vation

BOTH/
EQUALLY
(vol.)

NEITHER/OTHER
(vol.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

29

60

7

2

2

2002 Mar 4-7

30

60

6

2

2

2001 May 7-9

35

47

14

2

2

2001 Mar 5-7

33

56

8

1

2



Do you think that the United States is or is not likely to face a critical energy shortage during the next five years?

 


Yes, is


No, is not

ALREADY FACING ONE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 3-5

56

40

1

3

2002 Mar 4-7

48

49

1

2

2001 Mar 5-7

60

36

1

3

1978 Nov 10-13

45

41

4

10




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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

37

33

22

8

--

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

45

31

18

5

1

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

34

34

21

10

1

2002 Mar 4-7

35

31

27

6

1

2001 Mar 5-7

42

35

17

5

1



D. The availability and affordability of healthcare

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

55

24

12

8

1

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

42

26

20

12

*

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

22

31

26

21

*

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

37

26

23

13

1

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

27

36

25

11

1

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

44

35

15

6

*

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

36

29

22

13

*

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

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Mar 24-25

49

30

16

5

*

2002 Mar 4-7

49

26

20

5

*



SUMMARY TABLE: CONCERN ABOUT NATIONAL ISSUES

 


2003 Mar 24-25
(sorted by "a great deal")


Great
deal


Fair
amount

Only a
little/
Not at all

%

%

%

The availability and affordability of healthcare

55

24

20

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

49

30

21

Crime and violence

45

31

23

The economy

44

35

21

Drug use

42

26

32

Illegal immigration

37

26

36

Hunger and homelessness

37

33

30

Unemployment

36

29

35

The quality of the environment

34

34

31

The availability and affordability of energy

27

36

36

Race relations

22

31

47



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