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Environmental Ratings, Global Warming Concern, Flat in 2020

Environmental Ratings, Global Warming Concern, Flat in 2020

Story Highlights

  • Americans maintain modest concern about quality of the environment
  • Trump's environmental job rating remains more negative than positive
  • Close to half still worry "a great deal" about global warming

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup's 2020 update of its annual Environment survey, conducted March 2-13, records little change in Americans' views on a number of ratings of the environment as well as the government's handling of the issue. Interviewing for this survey was conducted as coronavirus-related concerns and closures were mounting across the U.S., but prior to the federal government issuing guidelines to curb social gatherings and discretionary travel.

Among the survey findings:

  • Forty-three percent of U.S. adults say they worry about the quality of the environment "a great deal." That is similar to the 46% expressing the same level of concern in 2019 but is still one of the higher levels of worry found for 13 issues rated.

  • Thirty-nine percent say President Donald Trump is doing a good job protecting the nation's environment, similar to 37% last year, while 58% say he's doing a bad job. Trump's approval on the environment is much lower than Barack Obama typically received during his presidency but on par with the average for George W. Bush.

  • About four in 10 Americans rate the overall quality of the environment in the country today as excellent or good, 42% consider it only fair and 14% poor. Six in 10 think it's getting worse while 36% say it's improving.

  • Consistent with the largely positive economic conditions in the country at the time of the survey -- more Americans choose the environment (60%) than economic growth (33%) when asked which of the two should be given priority.

  • While public concern about most specific environmental issues rated was flat this year compared with 2019, the percentage worried a great deal about the loss of tropical rain forests increased to 49%. That is up from 39% a year ago, and the highest since 2000.

Global Warming Fears Unchanged in Past Year

Additionally, at the end of the second warmest winter on record, Americans' views on global warming were unchanged in the past year across a number of dimensions. This includes 46% saying they worry a great deal about the issue, 45% thinking it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime and 64% saying that earth's higher temperatures result from pollution and human activities rather than natural environmental changes.

Line graph, 2001-2020. Trends in six global warming positions consistent with belief that global warming is real and serious.

The public naturally sorts into three groups based on their views about global warming.

  • The largest group, describing 51% of Americans today, are what can be termed "Concerned Believers." They attribute global warming to human actions and take the threat seriously.

  • The smallest group, now 21%, can be termed "Cool Skeptics." They express little to no worry about global warming and attribute higher temperatures to natural environmental changes.

  • The remaining 28% are the "Mixed Middle" who hold a combination of views.

Since 2001, the Mixed Middle has been shrinking while the ranks of Concerned Believers has expanded. There has been some shifting over the years in the percentages qualifying as Cool Skeptics, but this group is also up long-term.

Line graph, 2001-2020. Trend in Americans categorized as concerned believers on global warming, skeptics and a middle group.

The full trends for these public attitudes about the environment and global warming are available in this March 2020 topline report (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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