PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama has entered the presidency with much higher public expectations for him on the environment than met George W. Bush eight years ago. Seventy-nine percent of Americans currently say Obama will do a good job of protecting the environment, compared to just 51% who felt that way about Bush in March 2001.
It's important to note that Bush in March 2001 and Obama in March 2009 had nearly identical overall job approval ratings, Obama at 65% and Bush at 63%. This suggests that the difference in public perceptions of the two presidents' potential to protect the environment is not just an artifact of their overall standing in the public's mind, but rather represent independent (and divergent) evaluations on the environmental issue.
Obama's positive image on the environment is so high in part because he gets unusually positive ratings from Republicans on the issue.
A remarkable 65% of Republicans in the March 2009 poll said Obama would do a good job of handing the environment, along with 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats. By contrast, only 36% of Democrats back in 2001 felt that Bush would do a good job of protecting the environment, along with 45% of independents and 72% of Republicans.
The unusual nature of Republicans' positive perceptions of Obama on the environment is highlighted when those perceptions are contrasted with Republicans' positive ratings of his overall job performance. Only 32% of Republicans in the Environmental poll approved of the job Obama is doing as president, less than half the percentage of Republicans who (in the same poll) said Obama would do a good job of protecting the environment.
It is also worth noting that there was very little difference in the overall salience of the environment to Americans between March 2001 and March 2009, as measured by their top-of-mind mentions of the environment as the nation's top problem. In both 2001 and 2009, an identical 2% named the environment or pollution as the most important problem facing the country.
The American public has high expectations for President Obama's ability to deal with the environment. Almost 8 out of 10 say Obama will do a good job of protecting the environment, much higher than the percentage who felt this way about Bush shortly after he took office in 2001. Obama's ability to follow through on these expectations, however, could be hampered by the fact that Americans' priorities at this point are more focused on the economy than on the environment.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-8, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.