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Record Party Gap on Environment-Economic Growth Tradeoff

Record Party Gap on Environment-Economic Growth Tradeoff

Story Highlights

  • 78% of Democrats, 20% of Republicans prioritize environment over economy
  • 58-point party gap is largest in trend dating back to 1984
  • Overall, 52% of Americans prioritize environment, 43% economic growth

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Though Democrats and Republicans have long come down on different sides when considering the tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection, the gap between the parties has never been larger. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 20% of Republicans, now believe environmental protection should be given the higher priority.

From 1984 to 1991, the parties expressed similar views on this matter, but by 1995 a divide became evident, which has since gradually expanded. At least half of Democrats have favored the environment over economic growth in all years of Gallup’s trend except during the economically challenged years of 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans typically prioritized the environment from 1984 through 2000, but Republicans have not returned to that level since falling to 47% in 2001.


There have been years when more Democrats prioritized environmental protection than do so today, including 82% in 2019 and 85% in 2020. But in those years, more Republicans than now thought environmental protection should be the higher priority.

Similarly, the 20% of Republicans who currently think the environment should get greater consideration is not the low point for that subgroup. In both 2011 and 2021, 19% of Republicans held that view, years when fewer Democrats than today prioritized the environment.

The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 1-23.

Political independents’ views are closer to those of Democrats, as 54% give a higher priority to environmental protection.

Meanwhile, 40% of independents, 17% of Democrats, and 74% of Republicans fall on the other side of the debate, saying economic growth should be more important than environmental protection. The pro-economy figure for Republicans is the highest Gallup has measured to date, and the 57-percentage-point Republican-Democratic gap on prioritizing the economy is also the largest.

Majority of Americans Say Environment Should Be Prioritized

Overall, 52% of Americans believe environmental protection should be a higher priority than economic growth, while 43% take the opposite view. These figures have been similar over the past three years, despite fluctuations among the party groups.

Americans have said environmental protection should be the priority in most years since Gallup first asked the question in 1984. The exceptions came during and after the Great Recession, between 2009 and 2013.

Between 1984 and 2000, the percentage who favored the environment was almost always above 60%, including 71% in 1990 and 1991 and 70% in 2000. Since 2000, the percentage has reached 60% only twice, in 2019 and 2020. Americans have tended to express more environmentally friendly attitudes when the economy was doing well.


Bottom Line

The environment is increasingly a source of partisan division in the U.S. In the early 1990s, when the environmental movement experienced a revival, it was an issue on which Republicans and Democrats exhibited consensus. But that changed a few years later, around the time of the 1994 Republican revolution that saw the party gain control of both the House of Representatives and Senate for the first time in four decades. That may have come as a backlash against the policies put forth by Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Party polarization on the environment has only grown since then, reaching record highs today.

On several issues that have come up in recent years, including the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the use of electric vehicles, Democrats and Republicans fall on opposite sides, with Democrats choosing to emphasize the environmental threats over the economic opportunities, and Republicans favoring the economic aspects.

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