Poll: Why Pro-Environmental Voters Fail to Vote for Environment
WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - Eight of every 10 Americans surveyed in a new national poll say they support pro-environmental policies, but their support often stops short of the ballot box.
The survey's findings were announced today at a press briefing at the U.S. Senate by Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, which commissioned the public opinion research.
Profeta was joined by Senators Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and John McCain, an Arizona Republican, as well as William Reilly, former EPA head and chair of the advisory board of the Nicholas Institute, and Peter Nicholas, chairman of Boston Scientific.
The Nicholas Institute was made possible through a $70 million gift to Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences by Nicholas and his wife Ginny.
The survey of 800 registered voters found that 79 percent favored "stronger national standards to protect our land, air and water," with 40 percent strongly supporting it.
But only 22 percent said environmental concerns have played a major role in determining whom they voted for in recent federal, state or local elections.
Even among self-described environmentalists, only 39 percent could recall an election where a candidate's environmental stance was among the two or three most important reasons why they voted for or against that candidate.
"There is a clear disconnect here," Reilly said. "Seventy-four percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats say they support stronger environmental standards. Yet, when it comes time to vote, they rank the environment low on their list of priorities."
In focus groups, the environment ranked last out of nine issues tested, both as a vote qualifier and in terms of expressed personal importance to voters.
The research was conducted for the Nicholas Institute by Hart Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. They surveyed 800 registered voters nationwide and conducted focus groups of voters in Columbus, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tennessee. The survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.
The pollsters identified five reasons for the gap between voters' support of the environment in general, and their inconsistent support of it at the ballot box:
The issue of trust - or lack of it - appeared to play a role in many voters' ambivalent attitudes toward environmental problems. Only 19 percent said there are "a lot" of trustworthy sources of information on environmental issues, while another 40 percent said there are "likely some trustworthy sources."
"For too long, we have seen environmental problems increase while our political ability to address those challenges has faded," Profeta said. "The Nicholas Institute has been created to fill that gap by serving as an impartial source of information and ideas that are trusted equally by all parties."
Profeta, Reilly and the pollsters will present the results of the survey again Wednesday at Duke's Fuqua School of Business as part of the Nicholas Institute's inaugural environmental summit. Hundreds of top scientists and leaders from corporations, governments and environmental organizations are taking part in the three-day summit, which begins tonight.
Keynote addresses by Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies," by Russell Train, chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund and former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and by Richard Osborne, group vice president for public and regulatory policy at Duke Energy will be featured at the conference.
The Nicholas Institute was founded to provide decision makers with what the Institute calls "independent, science-driven" evaluations of policy risks and rewards, and to work with them to develop "innovative, practical" solutions.