Yale University Releases National Poll On The Environment

A survey of 1,000 adults nationwide shows Americans are seriously concerned about the country’s environmental health and want more political action on the environment, particularly at the national and international levels. A wide majority of voters say a candidate’s stance on the environment will be a factor in how they decide to vote in November. Voters - especially younger voters - want the candidates for president to talk more about their plans for the environment.

Yale Forestry & Environmental Studies School Professor Dan Esty took the lead in developing the poll with the nationally recognized polling firm Global Strategy Group.

While the country is profoundly divided when it comes to national politics, Americans of all political persuasions are as troubled by the problems of air pollution and toxic contamination of soil and water as they are by the much higher-profile issues of jobs and the cost of gas. There is also a new environmental concern in post-9/11 America: bio-terrorism and the security of the country’s food and water supply.

According to Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, “This poll underscores that Americans are concerned about the environment, and they want the federal government to take action to protect it. It shows that the positions the presidential candidates hold on the environment will likely be a significant factor in the voting behavior of Americans this November.” Eighty-four percent of those polled say the environment will be a factor in their vote in November; 35% consider it a “major factor.”

Results of the poll indicate that nearly three out of five (59%) Americans rate the quality of the country’s environment overall as “only fair” or “poor,” while just 3% say America’s environment is “excellent.” Americans are not optimistic about the immediate future of the environment. Just 16% say that the quality of the environment in the United States is getting better, while 50% say it is getting worse.

The results are even more striking when Americans are asked about global environmental conditions. Three-fourths rank global conditions as “only fair” or poor, and 63% say conditions are getting worse.

“There’s a real concern on the part of the majority of Americans when it comes to the overall quality of our environment,” said Speth, “and people are genuinely concerned that it’s only going to get worse. Moreover, the public perceives a huge deficit between its aspirations for environmental protection and what our politics actually delivers.”

Professor Esty said, “Political pundits usually dismiss the environment as an issue that affects elections because they think people don’t listen when politicians talk about it. Clearly, that’s not the case. In this presidential campaign, at least so far, neither candidate has spent much time talking about his positions on the environment. This poll indicates they might want to start talking about it – soon.”

According to the poll, fully two-thirds (67%) of Americans say the United States government does not do enough about the environment and should do more. “Americans want concrete efforts taken to protect the environment,” notes Esty.

The combination of strong concerns over the state of the environment and an expectation that the federal government could do more to address pollution and natural resource-management challenges translates into a “desire on the part of most Americans to hear the candidates for president talk more about their plans to protect the environment,” according to Esty. A majority of Americans (56%) say that the candidates should talk more about their plans for the environment. A significant percentage of the electorate (37%) wants the candidates to talk “much more” about environmental issues.

And the public wants action as well as talk. Eighty-four percent believe the United States should enact stricter emissions and pollution standards for business and industry. This reflects substantial majorities of Democrats (92%), Independents (90%) and Republicans (68%).

The poll also indicates that Americans are concerned about the price of gasoline and the issues of jobs and the economy. But Americans view protecting the country’s water and food supply from terrorists as just as serious a problem; fully 87% of Americans rate protecting the country’s water and food supply from terrorist attack as a very serious problem.

Esty said, “That’s a relatively new phenomenon, but not a surprising one. Just about every day since 9/11, the American people have been reading, hearing and seeing on television, news stories regarding public officials’ concerns that terrorists will target a major source of water or food. After awhile, those news stories have an effect, and it’s clear that they’ve had an impact on peoples’ opinions.”

In the end, said Esty, “the environment remains an issue of concern for most Americans – in one way or another. One of the hallmarks of our country has always been that one generation has passed on to the next generation a better life: better jobs, better technology and a better standard of living. To a certain extent, the price of that has been the health of our environment - and now people are saying, ‘I’m worried about the environment, we need to take better care of it, and it’s part of what makes for higher quality of life.’”

The survey was conducted as a part of a project at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies by Global Strategy Group from April 26 to May 3, 2004. The survey was conducted using professional phone interviewers. The nationwide sample was drawn from a random digit dial (RDD) process. Respondents were screened on the basis of age, i.e., to be over the age of 18. The survey has an overall margin of error of ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level. That is, if the same survey were conducted among similar respondents, the results would fall within the range of ±3.1% in 19 out of 20 cases.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Dave DeFusco: david.defusco@yale.edu, 203-436-4842