The recent oil spill has spurred a significant shift in Americans’ environmental attitudes, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll. For the last few years, Americans’ environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on concerns such as the economy and energy. However, in two months’ time, that trend has reversed, and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade.
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The new results are based on a May 24-25 USA Today/Gallup poll. In March, by 50% to 43%, Americans said it was more important to develop US energy supplies than to protect the environment, continuing a trend in the direction of energy production seen since 2007. Now, the majority favor environmental protection, by 55% to 39%—the second-largest percentage (behind the 58% in 2007) favoring the environment in the 10-year history of the question.
Democrats had already put more emphasis on environmental protection than on energy production in March, but that position has gained strength among Democrats today. Independents’ views have flipped from a majority pro-energy stance in March to a majority pro-environment one today. In contrast, Republicans’ opinions have not changed since the oil spill occurred; they continue to prioritize energy production over environmental protection by a 2-to-1 margin.
Americans’ shift toward a more pro-environment point of view is also evident in a separate trade-off question, which pits environmental protection against economic growth. After the oil spill, the balance of opinion tips toward the environment by seven points, 50% to 43%. Just over two months ago, Americans favored economic growth by a 15-point margin, 53% to 38%.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted May 24-25, 2010, with a random sample of 1,049 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental US, selected using a random-digit-dial sampling technique. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.