skip to main content

Environmental Activists Put Their Beliefs Into Action

Environmental Activists Put Their Beliefs Into Action

Story Highlights

  • 17% of public are activists, another 45% are sympathetic but not active
  • Activists are much more likely to confront government, businesses
  • Activists most likely to worry a great deal about environmental issues

WASHINGTON, D.C -- A solid majority of Americans (62%) support environmentalism through actions or sympathetic feelings toward the cause, but fewer than one in five (17%) consider themselves environmental activists. These self-identified activists differ in both attitudes and actions from those who are sympathetic but not active.

Self-Described Activists Back Up Words With Actions
Percentage of those in three categories -- active participants in the environmental movement, those who are sympathetic but not active, and those who are neutral or unsympathetic -- who have taken the following actions within the last year
All adults Active Sympathetic Neutral or unsympathetic
% % % %
Voluntarily recycled 89 97 92 82
Bought a product because it was better for the environment 66 87 76 45
Been active in a group that works to protect the environment 21 55 20 6
Contacted a public official about an environmental issue 20 42 22 7
Complained to a business about a product that harms the environment 11 26 11 5
Bought or sold stocks, mutual funds because of a company's environmental record 9 15 9 7
GALLUP

In its annual Environment survey conducted from March 1-5, Gallup asked Americans to describe their orientation to the environmental movement. Seventeen percent say they are active participants in the environmental movement, and another 45% describe themselves as sympathetic but not active. The remainder say they are neutral toward the movement (28%), are unsympathetic (8%) or have no opinion (2%).

Support for environmentalism in the U.S. has changed little over the past six years. The percentage describing themselves as activists has ranged from 16% to 18%, and the percentage describing themselves as sympathetic but not active has ranged from 40% to 45%.

Environmental activists do not differ much from those in other categories regarding everyday, environmentally conscious actions like recycling, but distinct differences exist for more time-consuming and potentially confrontational actions to protect the environment:

  • The vast majority of Americans (89%) -- no matter how they feel about environmentalism -- recycle everyday objects such as newspapers, glass and aluminum.
  • More than twice as many environmental activists (55%) as environmentally sympathetic Americans (20%) say they are active in a group that works to protect the environment.
  • More than twice as many activists as sympathizers (26% vs. 11%) have complained to a business about a product that harms the environment. And almost twice as many activists as sympathizers (42% vs. 22%) have contacted a public official about an environmental issue.
  • More than two-thirds of self-described activists (68%) have taken at least one of the three actions associated with support of environmentalism (complained to a business, contacted a public official or been active in a group) in the past year, compared with 37% of sympathizers and 14% of those who are nonsympathizers (neutral or unsympathetic).
  • Though less than half of nonsympathizers (45%) bought a product because it was better for the environment, high percentages of both activists (87%) and those who are sympathetic (76%) have done so.
  • Relatively few Americans, regardless of their relationship to the environmental movement, say they have bought or sold stocks or mutual funds based on a company's environmental record.

Levels of Worry on Environmental Issues Differ Among Groups

As might be expected, activists are more likely to worry about major environmental issues than both sympathizers and nonsympathizers.

Environmental Activists Find Much to Worry About
Percentage who worry a great deal about each of the following environmental issues
All adults Active Sympathetic Neutral or unsympathetic
% % % %
Pollution of drinking water 63 77 68 50
Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs 57 77 58 45
Air pollution 47 68 49 35
Global warming or climate change 45 67 51 26
Extinction of plant and animal species 44 63 45 34
The loss of tropical rain forests 44 57 45 34
GALLUP

On all six issues measured, activists are more likely than sympathizers -- and sympathizers are more likely than nonsympathizers -- to worry a great deal.

The largest gap between activists and nonsympathizers (41 percentage points) occurs on global warming or climate change, the most partisan of the issues. It is the only issue that a majority of nonsympathizers (58%) say they worry about a little (28%) or not at all (30%).

Though activists worry more than others about environmental issues, they are not much more likely than sympathizers (65% vs. 61%) to say the quality of the environment is "only fair" or "poor," nor are they any more likely to say the U.S. is doing too little to protect the environment.

Also, similar percentages of these two groups believe that environmental quality is getting worse (68% of activists, 69% of sympathizers).

On other major nonenvironmental problems facing the U.S., including the economy, the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S., crime and violence, and illegal immigration, environmental activists are about as likely as the rest of the population to worry a great deal.

Bottom Line

While environmental activists are uniquely proactive when it comes to speaking out on behalf of the environment, sympathizers nearly match activists in taking basic environmentally friendly actions such as recycling and making purchases based on what's best for the environment.

Additionally, sympathizers join activists in believing the quality of the environment is not good, and that the U.S. is doing too little to rectify it. The coalition of activists and sympathizers, along with some nonsympathizers, provides majority support for the government to enforce existing environmental regulations more strongly, increase spending on alternative energy sources, and tighten emission and pollution standards.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of environmental activists, the margin of sampling error is ±9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For sympathizers and nonsympathizers, it is ±6 percentage points. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


Gallup http://news.gallup.com/poll/207104/environmental-activists-put-beliefs-action.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030