For Earth Day, here’s how Americans view environmental issues
The 1970s were an important era for American environmentalism. Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, and the nation’s first Earth Day – created by Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin – was held on April 22, 1970.
Forty-six years later, Earth Day has expanded across the globe, with dozens of countries holding events ranging from launching new recycling programs to rallies addressing climate change.
Here are five findings related to the public’s views about the environment:
1Overall, Americans support protecting the environment, but there are deep partisan divides on the issue. Fully 74% of U.S. adults said the “country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,” compared with 23% who say “the country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment,” according to newly released data from a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March.
Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party have consistently been more likely than Republican and Republican leaners to agree that the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment, but Republican support has decreased since 2004 and the gap between the two groups has widened to 38 percentage points today.
2Many Americans want elected officials to address environmental matters, but the public gives other issues – like the economy or terrorism – greater priority. Nearly half of Americans (47%) ranked the environment as a top policy issue that President Obama and Congress should be tackling this year, according to a survey conducted in January. By contrast, strengthening the economy (75%) and defending the country from future terrorist attacks (75%) were at the top of the public’s priority list.
3Views about how involved the government should be in protecting the environment vary by political party and ideology. While 89% of Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party say the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, only 58% of Republicans and Republican leaners see a major role for the government in this area. Republicans themselves are divided: 74% of moderate and liberal Republicans support government playing a major role in protecting the environment, compared with 48% of conservative Republicans.
4Roughly four-in-ten Americans identify as environmentalists. A 2014 survey found that 39% of U.S. adults say the term “environmentalist” described them very well, while 10% said that description was totally wrong. Democrats and those who lean Democratic were about twice as likely as Republicans and those who lean to the GOP to say “environmentalist” describes them well (50% vs. 26%). Millennials were also somewhat less likely than those in older generations to view themselves as environmentalists – 32% did so versus at least four-in ten among other generations.
5The vast majority of Americans say they recycle. Data from a 2014 survey show that close to half (46%) of Americans say they recycle or reduce waste to protect the environment whenever possible, while 30% say they do so most of the time and 19% report doing so occasionally. Just 4% of the public say they never recycle or reduce waste to protect the environment. Older Americans are modestly more inclined than their younger counterparts to say they recycle and reduce waste whenever possible.
Category: 5 Facts
Monica Anderson is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.