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Polarized Americans Rate Environment Worst Since 2009

by Megan Brenan
Polarized Americans Rate Environment Worst Since 2009

Story Highlights

  • 59% in U.S. rate quality of environment negatively, 40% positively
  • 61% say quality of the environment getting worse, 33% say better
  • Democrats much more negative than Republicans about quality

This story is part of a special series on Americans' views of the environment, global warming and energy.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty percent of Americans rate the overall quality of the environment as "excellent" or "good." Although not dramatically lower than in prior years, it is the least positive assessment of the environment since 2009.

Polarized Americans Rate Environment Worst Since 2009

These latest findings are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-8. On balance, less than half of Americans have rated the quality of the environment positively since 2001, when Gallup began asking the question. The lone exception to this pattern came in 2015, with 50% of Americans rating the environment as excellent or good.

Democrats' Ratings of the Environment Hit New Low

Partisans' views of the quality of the environment have differed since Gallup began asking this question in 2001, with Republicans holding significantly more positive views than Democrats and independents. The decline in overall ratings of the environment this year is almost entirely attributable to Democrats' less positive assessments.

Republicans Rate Environment More Positively Than Democrats

The 23% positive rating of the environment among Democrats is by one percentage point their historical low point, and marks a 14-point drop from 2017. Republicans' views, however, are roughly the same as they were in 2017, with 61% now rating the environment as excellent or good, compared with 64% last year. Independents' ratings are also unchanged.

Partisans' views of the environment have somewhat reflected the party represented in the White House. For instance, during George W. Bush's presidency, Republicans' positive views of the environment were elevated and Democrats' were lower. During Barack Obama's presidency, the opposite was true, though Democrats still had less positive views overall. Now, with Donald Trump in office, Democrats' views have dropped significantly, while Republicans' have stayed high.

Americans' Outlook on the Environment Is Largely Negative

Currently, 33% of Americans think the quality of the environment is getting better, and 61% think it is getting worse. Optimism about the environment rose to above 40%, but failed to reach 50%, after Obama took office in 2009; it remained stable until it began to decline in 2016. Since 2015, the percentage of Americans who say the environment is worsening has risen by 10 points.

Americans Think Environment Is Getting Worse

While the 61% of Americans who think the environment is getting worse is higher than it has been in recent years, it is shy of the record high of 68% in 2008, George W. Bush's last year in office.

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Republicans More Optimistic Than Democrats About Outlook for Environment

At times in the past, Republicans and Democrats have had similar views on whether environmental quality is getting better or worse -- mainly during the Obama years, when Democrats became more positive. Over the past two years, however, there has been a return to a sharp partisan divide, with 56% of Republicans and 15% of Democrats in 2018 saying it is getting better. Republicans have turned more positive during that time, while Democrats have become significantly more negative.

Republicans’ Outlook for Environment More Positive Than Democrats'

The 41-point gap in environmental optimism between Republicans and Democrats is the largest in the 18-year history of this question, and the 56% of Republicans who think the environment is getting better matches the record high in 2004. Democrats' current 15% "getting better" assessment is, in contrast, still not as quite as low as the 9% recorded in 2007.

Bottom Line

As with many issues today, Americans' views of environmental quality -- present and future -- differ greatly among Republicans and Democrats. Trump spent his first year in office rolling back many of the environmental policies put in place by the Obama administration, and Democrats since 2016 have become less positive about the environment.

While the quality of the environment is not currently among the top issues worrying all Americans, 63% of Democrats say they worry a great deal about it, compared with 20% of Republicans. Democrats have become sharply more negative about the environment since Trump became president, but Republicans typically have been less prone to sharp swings of opinion on the issue.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 1-8, 2018, with a random sample of 1,041 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 70% cellphone respondents and 30% 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 the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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