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Who Will Protect the Environment?

Americans place least trust in Republican Party, large corporations

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

With the Earth Day holiday now in the rear-view mirror, the emphasis shifts from celebration to ongoing preservation and conservation work. But whom does the public trust to carry out that work? Americans, according to Gallup's annual poll on the environment*, most trust local and national environmental organizations to protect the quality of the nation's environment and least trust the Republican Party and large corporations.

A quarter of the public (26%) trusts local environmental groups "a great deal" when it comes to protecting our nation's environment. Another 43% of Americans express a "moderate amount" of trust for this group, while just about 3 in 10 express a slight amount of trust or none at all. Results for national environmental groups are similar. However, fewer Americans trust national environmental groups now than did so in 2000, when a third of Americans trusted national environmental groups a great deal.

Governmental Protection

What about the federal agency specifically charged with safeguarding the environment? Twenty-two percent say they trust federal environmental agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a great deal, while another 42% say a moderate amount. State environmental agencies come in slightly below the EPA in terms of public trust. Just 16% express a great deal of trust in them, while 48% say a moderate amount. Fewer Americans trust the EPA and state environmental agencies than did so in 2000.

Politicians

Americans don't currently have much faith in politicians to be stewards of the environment. Just 11% of the public trusts Congress a great deal, while a third (33%) expresses a moderate amount of trust. A majority of Americans (53%) express a slight amount or no trust at all in the U.S. Congress to protect the environment.

The Democratic Party fares better than the Republican Party on the issue of environmental protection. Fifteen percent of Americans trust the Democratic Party a great deal when it comes to protecting the country's environment, and 37% trust it a moderate amount. Meanwhile, just 9% say they trust the Republican Party a great deal, and 32% trust it a moderate amount.

Private Industry

It's fair to say that the public is skeptical of how all private industry treats the environment. But small businesses do fare better than large corporations in the public's eye. Fifteen percent of Americans trust small businesses a great deal to protect the environment, while 30% trust them a moderate amount. Large corporations come in last in terms of public trust concerning the environment; just 7% trust them a great deal while 17% trust them a moderate amount -- that leaves a three-quarters (75%) of Americans who put little or no faith in large corporations to protect the environment. Trust is much lower this year than it was five years ago, when 9% trusted large corporations a great deal, 28% trusted them a moderate amount, and 62% had little or no faith.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 7-10, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

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