Americans remain pessimistic about the state of the environment and want prompt action taken to improve its health, according to the second annual ''America's Report Card on the Environment''-a national public opinion survey conducted by the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University in collaboration with the Associated Press.
''The public's overall pessimism and general desire for action has remained constant during the past year,'' said Woods Institute senior fellow Jon A. Krosnick, the Frederic O. Glover Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stanford, who designed the 2006 and 2007 surveys. ''However, Americans have significantly more negative views of business and of President Bush's handling of the environment than they did a year ago.''
The 2007 report card was based on a telephone survey of a representative national sample of 1,001 American adults, who were interviewed from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23.
Pessimism and global warming
The survey found that 52 percent of Americans expect the world's natural environment to be in worse shape in 10 years than it is now, compared to 55 percent in 2006-a statistically insignificant difference, Krosnick said. An additional 8 percent said the environment is in ''poor'' or ''very poor'' shape and will not improve-about the same as the 5 percent reported in 2006.
''We refer to this group of 60 percent [52 percent plus 8 percent] of Americans as 'pessimists,''' he said. ''These pessimists closely resemble the entire U.S. population in terms of gender, race, level of education and whether they live in urban, suburban or rural settings, although white people are now significantly less likely to be pessimists than people of other races.''
As in 2006, partisan loyalties are related to pessimism: 72 percent of Democrats are pessimists versus 36 percent of Republicans. In 2006, those numbers were 67 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans. ''The decrease in pessimism among Republicans is significant, while the increase among Democrats is not,'' Krosnick said.
Pessimism about the health of the natural environment is strongly related to beliefs about global warming, he added, noting that 84 percent of Americans believe that global warming is occurring-compared to 85 percent in 2006. The survey found that 69 percent of the public is at least ''somewhat sure'' that global warming has been happening and believe that it will have at least ''somewhat serious'' effects if unchecked, compared to 68 percent in 2006. Among that group, 70 percent are pessimists about the environment in general, compared to 71 percent last year.
The 2007 report card revealed that 84 percent of Americans (compared to 86 percent in 2006) want President Bush, Congress, American businesses and/or the American public to do ''a great deal'' or ''a lot'' to help the environment during the next year. This call to action remains bipartisan, with 92 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans calling for environmental improvements, compared to 94 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans last year.
As in 2006, the proportion of people wanting ''a great deal'' or ''a lot'' of effort did not vary according to age and race. ''However, those who want more to be done are now more likely to be female than male, are more likely to have completed high school-but no further education-than to be more educated, and are less likely to live in a rural area and more likely to live in other parts of the country,'' Krosnick noted.
Only 7 percent of Americans surveyed say that Bush did ''a great deal'' or ''a lot'' to help the environment during the past year (8 percent in 2006), and 67 percent want him to do ''a great deal'' or ''a lot'' in the coming year-slightly but significantly lower than last year's figure of 73 percent. This decrease was greatest among Republicans-from 58 percent in 2006 to 47 percent in 2007.
''Only 8 percent of Americans believe that U.S. businesses did a great deal or a lot to help the environment during the past year, as in 2006,'' Krosnick said. ''And 71 percent want them to do a great deal or a lot to help the environment during the next year, which is slightly but significantly lower than the 76 percent we saw in 2006. Again, this decrease was greatest among Republicans-from 64 percent in 2006 to 53 percent in 2007.''
According to the survey, 70 percent of Americans also believe that Congress should do ''a great deal'' or ''a lot'' to help the environment during the next year-slightly but significantly less than the 75 percent figure in 2006. This decrease was most marked among Republicans-from 63 percent in 2006 to 49 percent in 2007.
Business, Bush and Congress
Approval of the President's handling of the environmental issues remained as low as one year ago-20 percent in 2007 compared to 21 percent in 2006. Fifty percent of Republicans approved of the president's performance on this issue, compared to 47 percent last year. ''Essentially no Democrats approved of the president's handling of the issue in 2006, and this is still true today,'' Krosnick said, noting that only 5 percent of Democrats approved of Bush's actions last year and 8 percent approved this year-an insignificant increase.
Americans' approval of Congress's handling of the environment remained constant during the past year-16 percent compared to 15 percent in 2006. Among Democrats, there was virtually no change during the past year, with approval of congressional performance at 10 percent (11 percent in 2006). Among Republicans, approval is at 19 percent (25 percent in 2006).
Approval of U.S. businesses' handling of the environment also stayed constant, at 22 percent (21 percent in 2006). ''Republicans approve of U.S. businesses significantly more than do Democrats-31 percent versus 19 percent,'' Krosnick noted. ''This was true in 2006 as well-32 percent versus 20 percent.''
Krosnick and his colleagues provided the following summary of this year's environmental report card:
As in 2006, a majority of Americans is pessimistic about the health of the environment, believing that it will get worse or is already in poor shape and will not improve.
A large majority of Americans still wants to see substantially greater effort to help the environment, but this majority has decreased slightly since 2006, especially among Republicans.
Blame for poor and declining environmental conditions is frequently placed on American businesses and to a lesser degree on President Bush's policies.
A large majority of Americans is at least somewhat certain that global warming has been happening and will have at least somewhat serious consequences. These individuals are particularly likely to be pessimistic about the future of the environment.
Democrats are more pessimistic about the environment and more supportive of remedial efforts than are Republicans, but even majorities of Republicans expressed negative views during the past year.
The 2007 survey was conducted by Krosnick and Trevor Tompson of the Associated Press, with support from the Woods Institute. The questionnaire used in the survey was designed by Krosnick and Gary Langer of ABC News. The report was written by Krosnick and Stanford doctoral student Brent Bannon in collaboration with Matthew DeBell, academic research and program director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford.
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