PRINCETON, NJ -- For only the second time in more than two decades and the second straight year, Americans are more likely to say economic growth should take precedence over environmental protection when the two objectives conflict (53%) than to say the reverse (38%).
"Since 2001, shifts in the percentages of Americans favoring the economy over the environment have mostly conformed with the trend in negative public perceptions about the economy."
Just under half of Democrats (49%) now believe "protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth." This is the lowest percentage of Democrats on record favoring the environment on this question, although not materially different from the 50% recorded in 2009. At 22%, the percentage of Republicans favoring the environment also marks a new low.
The negative U.S. economic climate since 2008 is no doubt a significant factor behind Americans' heightened willingness to say environmental concerns should take a back seat to economic growth. Since 2001, shifts in the percentages of Americans favoring the economy over the environment have mostly conformed with the trend in negative public perceptions about the economy ("only fair" or "poor" ratings of current economic conditions).
Another factor could be Americans' increased optimism about the environment. With more Americans believing the environment is improving (now 41%, up from 25% in 2007), perhaps fewer are willing to risk supporting environmental measures that might have a negative economic impact.
Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.