In this updated and expanded study of public attitudes on environment issues, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) senior fellow and public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman, with researcher Andrew Rugg, explores trends from major pollsters on the environment, offshore drilling, gas prices, nuclear power, and global warming. Bowman notes that attitudes have shifted significantly in a number of areas since the 2010 study. Among the highlights:
President Obama continues to receive solid marks on the environment. In a March 2011 AP-GfK/Roper poll, 63 percent approved his handling of the issue with 35 percent disapproving. A March-April 2011 Pew poll showed Obama's rating on the environment much lower, at 51 percent (35 percent disapproved).
His marks on handling energy policy are more negative. Roughly equal numbers approve (47 percent) and disapprove (46 percent) in a March 2011 CNN/ORC poll.
- Americans are deeply concerned about rising prices. April 2011 polling by AP-GfK/Roper shows that 77 percent say gas prices are extremely/very important to them, ranking fifth out of 14 other issues. Sixty-four percent told CNN/ORC pollsters in March that gas price increases had caused financial hardship for their household.
- After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, attitudes towards offshore drilling soured. Late 2010 and early 2011 polling suggests attitudes have shifted again, this time in favor of offshore drilling. A plurality of 48 percent told AP-GfK pollsters in August 2010 that they favored "increasing drilling for oil and gas in coastal areas around the United States". Thirty-six percent were opposed. Sixty percent in a March 2011 Gallup poll favored increasing offshore drilling for oil and gas in coastal areas; 37 percent were opposed. In an April 2011 CNN/ORC poll, 45 percent strongly favored increased drilling for oil and natural gas offshore in U.S. waters, up from 26 percent who gave that response in 2010. Overall, 69 percent in the new CNN poll favored increased offshore drilling and 31 percent were opposed.
- Attitudes towards nuclear power have grown more negative in the wake of the problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. While March 2011 Gallup polling shows more in favor (56 percent) than opposed (38 percent) to the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity, polling from CBS and CNN/ORC shows more opposition that support to building more nuclear power plants. Americans appear to believe that U.S. nuclear power plants are safe.
- For only the second time since the question was asked in 1984, more respondents told Gallup that they would prioritize economic growth over the environment "even if the environment suffers to some extent."
- In a March 2011 Gallup poll, 48 percent said the quality of the environment nationally is getting worse. In 2008, 68 percent gave that response.
- When the Pew Research Center updated its yearly poll on priorities for the president and Congress in January 2011, 26 percent said global warming should be a top priority. Only "dealing with obesity in this country" ranked lower out of the twenty-two issues Pew asked about.
- In a March 2011 Gallup poll, 43 percent said that what was said about global warming in the news was generally exaggerated. This is down slightly from 2010 (48 percent), but up considerably since the question was first asked in November 1997 (31 percent).
Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow and Andrew Rugg is a research assistant at AEI.