Public opinion cools on warming

by William Yeatman on April 27, 2004

in Politics

According to a series of Gallup polls around Earth Day, the American public is becoming less concerned about global warming and the environment generally.

 The Aspen Times reported (Apr. 22), A national poll conducted to coincide with Earth Day today shows that Americans are well aware of global warming.  They just aren’t very concerned about it.  The Gallup organization measured concern over environmental issues between March 8-11 and found that 51 percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming.  That’s down from 58 percent in March 2003.

About 47 percent of respondents both this year and last said they worry only a little or not at all about global warming, according to the Gallup Tuesday Briefing, a branch of the famed national pollster.

 Although the figures suggest a majority of Americans are still concerned about the issue, the Aspen Times was right to play down this aspect of the poll as it has a margin of error of 3 percent, meaning that the two groupings of concern levels overlap in their confidence intervals.  It is perfectly possible that more Americans are unconcerned than concerned about the issue. 

Another Gallup poll ranked concern for the environment against other major issues of the day.  This one found that people are more concerned about healthcare, crime, drugs, terrorism, the economy, illegal immigration, unemployment, hunger and homelessness, and the availability and affordability of energy than they are about the quality of the environment.  Only race relations ranked lower as an issue of concern of the 12 issues suggested.

The poll found that 62 percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about environmental quality, down from 77 percent in March 2001.

Summarizing recent polls and their relationship to the presidential election, AEI scholar Karlyn Bowman wrote in Roll Call (Apr. 28), Democrats lead the GOP as the party better able to handle the environment.  Given the Democrats strength on the issue, its surprising that Bushs marks on handling it have been pretty even during his presidency.  In the March Gallup poll, 41 percent thought the president was doing a good job handling the environment and 46 percent a poor job, down from 44 percent to 43 percent in March 2003.  Bushs ratings on the environment at a couple of points during the presidency have been similar to Bill Clintons at the same stage of his presidency.

 Bushs relatively even ratings may derive from the fact that other issues such as the economy, Iraq, and terrorism loom larger than the environment.  In every poll this year that has asked the question, the environment has ranked close to the bottom as a priority.  Although people have concerns about the environment nationally, they are satisfied with the quality of the environment where they live and that, too, may dampen concern, Bowman concluded.

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