Polarized Americans Rate Environment Worst Since 2009
by Megan Brenan
- 59% in U.S. rate quality of environment negatively, 40% positively
- 61% say quality of the environment getting worse, 33% say better
- Democrats much more negative than Republicans about quality
Forty percent of Americans rate the overall quality of the environment
as "excellent" or "good." Although not dramatically
lower than in prior years, it is the least positive assessment of the
environment since 2009.
These latest findings are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted
March 1-8. On balance, less than half of Americans have rated the quality
of the environment positively since 2001, when Gallup began asking the
question. The lone exception to this pattern came in 2015, with 50% of
Americans rating the environment as excellent or good.
Democrats' Ratings of the Environment Hit New Low
Partisans' views of the quality of the environment have differed since
Gallup began asking this question in 2001, with Republicans holding significantly
more positive views than Democrats and independents. The decline in overall
ratings of the environment this year is almost entirely attributable to
Democrats' less positive assessments.
The 23% positive rating of the environment among Democrats is by one percentage
point their historical low point, and marks a 14-point drop from 2017.
Republicans' views, however, are roughly the same as they were in
2017, with 61% now rating the environment as excellent or good, compared
with 64% last year. Independents' ratings are also unchanged.
Partisans' views of the environment have somewhat reflected the party
represented in the White House. For instance, during George W. Bush's
presidency, Republicans' positive views of the environment were elevated
and Democrats' were lower. During Barack Obama's presidency, the
opposite was true, though Democrats still had less positive views overall.
Now, with Donald Trump in office, Democrats' views have dropped significantly,
while Republicans' have stayed high.
Americans' Outlook on the Environment Is Largely Negative
Currently, 33% of Americans think the quality of the environment is getting
better, and 61% think it is getting worse. Optimism about the environment
rose to above 40%, but failed to reach 50%, after Obama took office in
2009; it remained stable until it began to decline in 2016. Since 2015,
the percentage of Americans who say the environment is worsening has risen
by 10 points.
While the 61% of Americans who think the environment is getting worse is
higher than it has been in recent years, it is shy of the record high
of 68% in 2008, George W. Bush's last year in office.
Republicans More Optimistic Than Democrats About Outlook for Environment
At times in the past, Republicans and Democrats have had similar views
on whether environmental quality is getting better or worse -- mainly
during the Obama years, when Democrats became more positive. Over the
past two years, however, there has been a return to a sharp partisan divide,
with 56% of Republicans and 15% of Democrats in 2018 saying it is getting
better. Republicans have turned more positive during that time, while
Democrats have become significantly more negative.
The 41-point gap in environmental optimism between Republicans and Democrats
is the largest in the 18-year history of this question, and the 56% of
Republicans who think the environment is getting better matches the record
high in 2004. Democrats' current 15% "getting better" assessment
is, in contrast, still not as quite as low as the 9% recorded in 2007.
many issues today, Americans' views of environmental quality -- present and future
-- differ greatly among Republicans and Democrats. Trump spent his first
year in office rolling back many of the environmental policies put in
place by the Obama administration, and Democrats since 2016 have become
less positive about the environment.
While the quality of the environment is not currently among the
top issues worrying all Americans, 63% of Democrats say they worry a great deal about it, compared with
20% of Republicans. Democrats have become sharply more negative about
the environment since Trump became president, but Republicans typically
have been less prone to sharp swings of opinion on the issue.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted
March 1-8, 2018, with a random sample of 1,041 adults, aged 18 and older,
living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results
based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error
is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported
margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone
respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas
by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are
selected using random-digit-dial methods.
Learn more about how the
Gallup Poll Social Series works.