A new Gallup poll shows a growing percentage of Americans favor protecting the environment over economic growth when the two issues are in conflict. The random sample of 1,039 adults surveyed between Mar. 1-10, 2019 shows 65 percent favored environmental protection, while 30 percent prioritized the economy. the 35-point gap is the largest since 2000. Gallup has been asking this question every year since 1984.
Nick Schroeck is the director of clinical programs at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. He says the trend is not surprising, given the relative strength of the economy. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate in March was 3.8%.
“At a time of really low unemployment like we have presently, this often happens,” Schroeck says. “When the economy’s doing really well, people start to care more about things like the environment.”
Conversely, Schroeck says, when the economy is struggling, people tend to prioritize economic growth. The Gallup poll’s historical data support that statement.
The 2019 poll also shows a partisan variation. 82% of Democrats and 71% of independents surveyed put environmental protection ahead of economic growth, versus 35% of Republicans. By contrast, 60% of Republicans favored economic growth, compared with 24% of independents and 13% of Democrats. While those numbers seem to reinforce political stereotypes, Schroeck says the poll shows how divided the country is.
“It’s unfortunate (the environment) has become politicized,” Schroeck says. “You look back through the last 30 or 40 years in this country, and there have been times when we’ve had Republicans and Democrats working on key environmental challenges.”
Schroeck also says recent environmental developments have helped the economy.
“We’ve seen with renewable energy investments that this has been a huge job driver,” he says.
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.