PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans tilt toward the view that the government is doing too little to protect the environment -- at 47% -- while 16% say it is doing too much. Another 35% say the government's efforts on the environment are about right. These views have not changed much since 2010, although Americans in most years between 1992 and 2006 were more likely than they are today to say the government was doing too little to protect the environment.
The new data are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 7-10. The Obama administration on Friday announced a new rule aimed at reducing air pollution by requiring the oil and gas industry to lower sulfur levels in gasoline. These findings suggest that about half of Americans -- those who say the government is doing too little to protect the environment -- may welcome the new rules in principle. And, some of those who say the government's efforts are currently about right may also favor the new actions, under the assumption that they represent a continuation of positively perceived ongoing efforts.
When Gallup first asked this question in 1992, 68% of Americans -- the all-time high -- said the government was doing too little to protect the environment. At least 51% agreed with the "too little" position each of the five subsequent times the question was asked through 2006, including one measure in April 2000, when the sitting president, Bill Clinton, was a Democrat, and four when Republican George W. Bush was president. These views have moderated slightly over the last four years, and the current 47% who say the government is doing too little is within one percentage point of the lowest on record.
Americans' views have shifted somewhat on the "too much" side of the ledger over the last four years as well -- with modestly higher percentages saying the government is doing too much about the environment (a range of 15% to 17% between 2010 and this year).
There are a number of explanations for the shift in attitudes between 2006 and the last four years, but two major events occurred during that time: Barack Obama became president, replacing a Republican in the White House, and the country was wracked by a significant recession -- which potentially changed Americans' priorities. Still, despite these shifts, the overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that the government's efforts on protecting the environment are about right or are too little.
Republicans More Likely to Say Government Doing Too Much
Significantly more Democrats (59%) than Republicans (33%) say the government is doing too little to protect the environment -- reflecting general philosophical differences in approach to the role of government across party lines. And, concomitantly, more than one in four Republicans vs. 2% of Democrats say the government is doing too much to protect the environment.
The Obama administration's recent decision to tighten environmental regulations on the gasoline industry is the latest manifestation of the continuing role the government has played in attempting to protect the environment. The majority of the American people apparently appreciate this role, with about a third saying that the government's efforts to protect the environment are about right, and another group of slightly less than half saying the government is actually doing too little on this front.
The less-than-positive angle on this for environmentalists is that views on the government's role in the environment have moderated slightly in recent years; at points in recent history, more than nine in 10 Americans said that the government's actions were about right or too little, compared with 82% today.
Republicans and Democrats have somewhat differing views on this topic, as would be expected, but even among Republicans, who are traditionally less enthusiastic about government regulations, more than two-thirds say the government's efforts on the environment are too little or are about right.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,022 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, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.