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About Half in U.S. Say Environmental Protection Falls Short

About Half in U.S. Say Environmental Protection Falls Short

Story Highlights

  • Sixteen percent say gov't doing "too much" to protect environment
  • Fewer say gov't doing "too little" now than in '90s and early '00s
  • Dems less likely to say gov't does "too little" than before Obama took office

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nearly half of Americans (48%) say the U.S. government is doing "too little" to protect the environment, while 16% say it is doing "too much." Roughly a third (34%) say it is doing "about the right amount" in terms of environmental protection. These figures are consistent with the past two years.

Do you think the U.S. government is doing too much, too little or about the right amount in terms of protecting the environment?

Since President Barack Obama took office, the percentage of Americans saying the government is doing too little to protect the environment has been lower than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who say the government is doing too much has increased since Obama took office.

Gallup first posed the question in 1992, and since then, Americans have always been most likely to say the U.S. government is doing too little to protect the environment. Majorities ranging from 51% to 68% held this belief until 2006. In polls since Obama took office, however, Americans have been less likely to say the government is falling short on environmental protection, though this has remained the dominant view. At the same time, more Americans have said the government is doing too much to protect the environment, reflecting the partisan nature of views of issues such as efforts to reduce industrial pollution and global warming.

These data are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 5-8. This comes in a year when the president has ramped up his focus on the environment, with a recent initiative highlighting the link between climate change and its impact on public health through a roundtable discussion with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. In January, the Obama administration sought to protect over 12 million acres of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In February, he vetoed congressional legislation that would have authorized the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada through the middle part of the U.S. And in March, Obama signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to cut back their greenhouse gas emissions as part of a larger effort to reduce such emissions globally.

Democrats More Than Twice as Likely as Republicans to Say Government Doing Too Little

Democrats have consistently been more likely than Republicans and independents over the past 15 years to say the federal government could be doing more to protect the environment, but they have been less likely to hold this view since Obama's election. During George W. Bush's administration, significant majorities of Democrats, as high as 79%, said the government was doing too little on the issue, but these majorities diminished during the Obama administration. Independents, too, have waned in their opinion that the U.S. government does too little in environmental protection, from 59% to 67% during the Bush administration and from 46% to 54% during Obama's.

By party ID: Do you think the U.S. government is doing too much, too little or about the right amount in terms of protecting the environment?

Republicans' views about how the government handles environmental protection, meanwhile, have been fairly stable. Aside from a high of 44% saying it does too little in 2000, the percentage of Republicans holding this view have varied narrowly between 29% and 38%, spanning both the Bush and Obama administrations.

A slight majority of Americans have consistently said Obama has done a "good job" on environmental issues, and he has outperformed his predecessor on the question. But Americans' views about Obama's personal performance and how the government itself has tackled environmental protection break largely along party lines.

Bottom Line

Though Obama's election seemed to have reduced concerns among Democrats and independents that the federal government underperforms on environmental protection, the president's recent environmental protection efforts have not shifted Americans' perceptions. Nearly half continue to say the government does not do enough on this issue.

Americans' views of the EPA, an agency created by Republican President Richard Nixon's administration nearly half a century ago with the mission to protect the environment, have been low relative to most other federal agencies. Though the latest assessment in November 2014 of the EPA's performance is barely higher than in previous polls, Americans regard the agency slightly better than they did when Gallup first asked about the EPA in 2003.

As his second term winds down, Obama's various environmental initiatives, which have taken on a prominent role in his 2015 agenda, may eventually affect Americans' perceptions of the government's efforts to protect the environment. But for the time being, Americans' views have not budged.

Historical data for this question are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 5-8, 2015, with a random sample of 1,025 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. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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