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Pew: 71% of Americans say “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”

By Joe Romm on May 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

"Pew: 71% of Americans say “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”"

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Public support for alternative energy transcends political barriers

A new Pew Poll “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology” finds strong support for the environment and clean energy.  The PDF is here and the summary with charts is here.

Pew buried the lede.  The most interesting finding to me is that 71% of Americans believe “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”  And 59% believe that “strongly.”

CAP polling expert Ruy Teixeira has some background on the poll, along with a chart with the results of the energy question:

The Pew Research Center has just released a very interesting study, “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology.” It segments the public into nine groups: eight politically active groups and one inactive group (bystanders) composed entirely of nonvoters. Of the eight active groups, two are described as “mostly Republican” (staunch conservatives and Main Street Republicans), three as “mostly Democratic” (new coalition Democrats, hard-pressed Democrats, and solid liberals), and three as “mostly independent” (libertarians, disaffecteds, and postmoderns). In reality, however, postmoderns lean strongly Democratic, while libertarians and disaffecteds lean strongly Republican. So there are really four active Democratic and four active Republican groups.

You can find details on each of these groups here.

In light of this diversity it is interesting to note a couple of areas where almost all of these groups agree. The first is on support for alternative energy. Overall, the public prioritizes developing alternative energy over expanding oil, coal, and natural gas by a 63-29 margin. And, as shown in the chart below, seven of Pew’s eight active typology groups support this position, including a whopping 40-point margin among the Main Street Republican group. Only the staunch conservatives (9 percent of the public) dissent from the rest.

Conservatives usually act like progressive ideas have no purchase in “their” part of the political spectrum. These data suggest otherwise.

General support for tougher environmental protection remains strong as evidenced by the polling numbers cited at the top.  A related question found 53% of Americans believe “Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost” compared to 39% says “Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy.”  Reconciling that with the71% who say they believe “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,” would seem to imply that even some people who think environmental laws and regulations hurt the economy still want tougher environmental protection, which in turn would suggest that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not economists.

This poll has some interesting results on global warming, which I will deal with in a separate post.

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12 Responses to Pew: 71% of Americans say “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”

  1. Richard Dent says:

    People answered positively in a poll. What about a social setting? My guess is they would change their tune.

  2. Nick Bentley says:

    “Whatever it takes” often means “Whatever it takes, except for anything that requires me to change the way I live.”

    Which is unfortunate, because whether change happens in a bottom-up, grass-rootsy way, or a top-down legislativey way, our collected personal behaviors are the heart of the problem, and they must change.

    I *hope* that somehow, the change comes from the bottom up. Would you rather drive less by simply volunteering to do so, or because a gas tax made driving prohibitively expensive?

    Since politicians usually only move *after* the bandwagon has already formed, it may be that strong, grass-roots changes are a necessary precondition for top-down action.

    If so, the onus is on those of us who care to advocate for, and model, true sustainable living. Which means actually driving less, flying less, making sure our houses/apts are as efficient as they can be, building local economies, etc.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    This is good news, but they don’t need a majority as long as they control the public dialogue and intimidate opposition political leaders. There are plenty of historical examples- including right here in the present.

  4. Michael Tucker says:

    “The most interesting finding to me is that 71% of Americans believe “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.””

    Yes, I find that fascinating as well but I will believe it when environmental protection, or even just a limit to GHG, becomes part of the 2012 political debate.

  5. windsong says:

    Paulm #1, thank you so much for the link you gave concerning Japan! This is highly significant! Thank you!!

  6. paulm says:

    welcome windsong. 4ft drop for the coastline pretty amazing! They will see the impact of SL rise even more.

    On topic…. too late to ‘protect’ the environment now.
    Must do what we can to minimize catastrophe….

  7. Warwick Neal says:

    The findings of the survey are certainly encouraging. However, it would be naive to ignore the fact that in the end money talks. I am not confident that the oil and gas industry and it’s “supporters” will take a lot of notice.

  8. Jonathan Byron says:

    Yes, theoretical support for the environment is very different from willingness to pay. Are people willing to give up their gas guzzlers, postpone vacations for a year to pay for insulation for their home, or change their diet to reduce their environmental impact? Are they willing to hike taxes on carbon fuels or contribute to conservation efforts? A few are, but the costs are no object only when they are theoretical …

    I’d be willing to bet that 70% of Americans will say that ‘health is the most important thing’ and yet they do rather little in the way of exercise or healthy eating.

  9. Jim Pankey says:

    It’s continued insanity…we won’t stop until we’ve destroyed our world, which can only mean one thing for us…

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I find it a little strange that only 71% think that the environment that keeps them living should be protected. Indeed as others have noted, this figure would probably fall if the question raised the spectre of cost. Still there are always ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’. An early manifestation of the anthropogenic climate destabilisation denial industry in this country was the use of ‘statisticians’ to confuse and mislead the public. Their last hurrah (so far, no doubt) was to spread a lot of economic ‘nacht und nebel’ in regard to ‘discount rates’ used in econometric forecasts of costs involved in climate destabilisation avoidance and mitigation. In this case the victim ‘disappeared’ was the truth that if we keep putting neo-liberal economics and the cult of greed before the biosphere, we’ll all be dead, and not in the long term either.

  11. BillD says:

    The GOP is so far to the right they can’t even see the “main street Republicans.” My guess is that the country will be swinging back to the dems and Obama by the 2012 election. I just hope that the Republicans are not able to use their current strengths to destroy both the economy and the environment before then. They seem to be aiming to do both as quickly as possible.