Americans Prioritize Environment Over Economic Growth in Latest Gallup Poll
According to a Gallup poll released today, Americans believe that focusing on protecting the environment should be prioritized over economic growth. Participants in the poll have been asked the following question since 1984: “With which one of these statements about the environment and 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?” In March 2014, 50% of respondents prioritized the environment, while 43% prioritized the economy.
WARNING: STATISTICS AHEAD
The results have changed over the years, but Americans usually prioritize the environment. From 2009 to now, Americans, in contrast, prioritized the economy over the environment (except immediately after the BP oil spill in 2010). This may have something to do with people’s opinions. While the economy is doing well, people tend to put more importance on the environment, and when the economic situation is bad, people believe the opposite. Right now, Americans’ confidence in the economy, according to the Economic Confidence Index, is inching upward. Although it is still negative, it is “less negative” than it was, for example, after the government shutdown in October of 2013. Get it? Now, as everyone who’s taken an introductory Economics class knows, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION, but it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to believe that a suffering economy affects the importance people place on it.
Another interesting caveat is how much Americans worry about one or the other. According to a March 13, 2014 Gallup report, 59% of Americans say they worry “a great deal” about the economy, while only 24% of worry “a great deal” about climate change. There are two things to take note of however: It’s important to differentiate the importance of “protecting the environment” with “worrying about climate change.” There are many different reasons for wanting to protect the environment than the specific reason of preventing climate change. For example, the survey also listed whether people worry a great deal about “The quality of the environment,” and 31% of Americans selected that option. Second, the respondents could select more than one option on the survey. So, technically, all 24% of people who worry about climate change could also worry about the economy (and even “the quality of the environment”- somebody needs to get these people some anti-anxiety pills).
There is a very strong gap between Americans who associate as Democrats and those who associate themselves as Republicans as well. You guessed it, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to be concerned about the environment, and Republicans are much more focused on growing the economy. However, while Democrats are much more concerned about the environment/climate change than Republicans, it’s still not at the top of the list of issues.
Something else that is important to consider is the wording of the polls. Asking about prioritization leads to connotations about “the future.” “Worrying” about something seems to imply a much more immediate problem. So, by stating the Americans are worried about the economy over the environment, the poll shows that people are more concerned with their personal economic situation than the more abstract situation of “the entire world.” It’s difficult to imagine someone preparing to hop on a Greenpeace boat and attempting to board a Russian oil rig tomorrow when they have to worry about feeding their family today.
This matches up with yet another poll by Gallup that shows that while most Americans believe that global warming is happening or will happen during their lifetime, only about a third believe it will pose a serious threat to their way of life. Younger participants are much more likely than seniors to believe that it will pose a threat to their way of life. This could be because of differences in generational values, but also because younger generations will be around a lot longer than their grandparents. It is important to note however, that even amongst younger participants (18-29 years old), most (57 percent!) don’t believe “global warming will seriously threaten one’s way of life.”
What does it all mean?
So after all of these numbers and graphs and seemingly contradictory reports, what do we know? Simply that people are concerned about the environment and the economy, but in different degrees and at different points in their life. I think you already knew that without analyzing all of these graphs, but, after all, a lot of smart people have a lot of negative things to say about statistics.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to have a job in this economy, it might be a good idea to call in sick this spring and enjoy the weather while you still can!