Environment Slides in Gallup 2009 Priorities Poll

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Among the many groups looking forward to change under President Obama's administration, environmentalists perhaps have the most to worry about.  We may have increased support for climate change legislation in Congress and the Executive Branch, but have we lost some of the public's support at the same time?  A new Pew survey reveals that the environment not only remains low on the list of priorities for Americans, but has dropped lower still.  Protecting the environment was a top priority for 56% of Americans last year, and this year it is at only 41%.  This research overwhelmingly highlights that focusing on expanding and deepening support for environmental protection and climate change solutions amongst the American public should be the environmental movement's top priority.

After the jump, the full Pew poll summary along with the link to a related New York Times article…

Environmental Issues Slide in Poll of Public's Concerns, The New York Times

Overview: Economy, Jobs Trump All Other Policy Priorities In 2009

Posted Jan. 22, 2009
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Top Priorities for 2009 jpeg
As Barack Obama takes office, the public’s focus is overwhelmingly
on domestic policy concerns – particularly the economy. Strengthening
the nation’s economy and improving the job situation stand at the top
of the public’s list of domestic priorities for 2009. Meanwhile, the
priority placed on issues such as the environment, crime, illegal
immigration and even reducing health care costs has fallen off from a
year ago.

While it is not unusual for the public to prioritize domestic over
foreign policy, the balance of opinion today is particularly one-sided.
Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (71%) say that President Obama should
focus on domestic policy, while just 11% prioritize foreign policy. By
comparison, last January, 56% cited domestic policy as most important
while 31% said Bush should focus on foreign policy.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People
& the Press, conducted Jan. 7-11 among 1,503 adults on cell phones
and landlines, finds that strengthening the economy and improving the
job situation are higher priorities today than they have been at any point over the past decade, and the recent upward trend has been steep. The
share of Americans saying that strengthening the nation’s economy
should be a top priority has risen from 68% two years ago to 75% last
January to 85% today. Concern about jobs has risen even more sharply.
The 82% who rate improving the job situation as a top priority
represents a 21-point jump from 61% a year ago.

Of the 20 issues people were asked to rate in both January 2008 and
January 2009, five have slipped significantly in importance as
attention to the economy has surged. Protecting the environment fell
the most precipitously – just 41% rate this as a top priority today,
down from 56% a year ago. The percentage rating illegal immigration as
a top priority has fallen from 51% to 41% over the past year, and
reducing crime has fallen by a similar amount (from 54% to 46%). And
while reducing health care costs remains a top priority to 59% of
Americans, this is down 10-points from 69% one year ago.

The public’s interest in many other policy areas remains relatively
stable, by comparison.  Roughly three-quarters (76%) say that defending
the country from future terrorist attacks should be a top priority,
making it the third highest priority among the 20 issues tested in the
survey. As recently as two years ago, terrorism ranked at the top of
the list of policy priorities. The share of Americans who rate
terrorism as a top priority has not changed substantially in recent
years; the issue has simply been leapfrogged by the economy and jobs at
the top of the list.

Top Domestic Priorities for Obama and Congress jpeg
As with terrorism, public views of the importance of several other
policy priorities have not changed much in recent years. Roughly
six-in-ten continue to rate making the Social Security system (63%) and
making the Medicare system (60%) more financially sound as top
priorities.  Dealing with the nation’s energy problems also remains a
top priority for six-in-ten, as does improving the educational system
(61%), though the public’s emphasis on the latter has slipped slightly
in recent years.

Republicans’ Job Concerns Surge

There is partisan agreement that strengthening the economy should be
a top priority for the president and Congress in 2009 – more than
eight-in-ten Democrats (88%), independents (85%) and Republicans (83%)
rate strengthening the nation’s economy as a top priority.

There is also increasing agreement across party lines about the
importance of improving the job situation. A year ago, 76% of Democrats
rated improving the job situation as a top priority compared with just
43% of Republicans – among the biggest partisan divisions in 2008.
Today, the partisan gap is much smaller; the share of Republicans
rating jobs as a top priority has jumped 29 points to 72%. The
percentage of Democrats citing jobs as a major priority has increased
by a smaller margin (from 76% to 89%).

The large decline in the percentage of Americans citing the
environment is seen across the political spectrum, but Republicans
(20%) remain far less likely than Democrats (54%) or independents (41%)
to say that protecting the environment should be a top priority for the
president and Congress. The only policy that ranks lower than
protecting the environment among Republicans is dealing with global
warming (16%).

Far fewer Republicans rate dealing with illegal immigration as a
major policy priority than did so in January 2008 (46% now, 64% then).
Dealing with illegal immigration also has declined as a policy priority
for independents and Democrats (nine points each).

Reducing health care costs is viewed as a less important priority
than at the beginning of last year. Only about half of independents
(52%) say that reducing health care costs should be a top priority,
down from 68% a year ago. This decline is less pronounced among
Democrats (down 10 points since 2008) and Republicans (down eight

Environment a Lower Priority

Protecting Environment Declines as Top Priority jpeg
 The 15-point decline in the percentage calling environmental
protection a top priority this year is steep, but not unprecedented
given the broader shift in public priorities. Between January 2001 and
January 2002, the proportion rating environmental protection as a top
priority fell by a similar amount (from 63% to 44%); a number of
domestic priorities declined in importance following the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. By January 2003, just 39% called environmental
protection a top priority – comparable to today’s 41% – before
resurging as a priority from 2006 to 2008, only to fall again this

The decline in the percentage calling environmental protection a top
priority crosses partisan and demographic lines. For instance, only
about four-in-ten women (43%) and men (39%) now say that protecting the
environment should be a top priority; last January, 57% of women and
55% of men rated environmental protection as a top priority. 

Deficits and Tax Cuts

For the past several years, a greater percentage of Democrats than
Republicans have rated reducing the budget deficit as a top priority.
But this gap has disappeared, as a narrower majority of Democrats view
this as a major priority than did so last year (64% vs. 52%).
Republicans’ views about the importance of reducing the deficit have
been stable (52% in 2008, 51% now).

By contrast, a partisan gap has emerged this year over reducing
middle-class taxes. At the start of 2008, roughly half of both
Democrats (50%) and Republicans (46%) rated this as a top priority.
Today, just 31% of Republicans say middle class tax cuts are a top
priority, compared with 48% of Democrats.

Crime Concerns Fall

The public’s crime concerns have fluctuated over the past eight
years. In January 2001, fully 76% rated reducing crime as a top
priority. Reducing crime fell as a major goal after 9/11, but increased
in 2006 and 2007 (62% rating it a top priority in each year).
Currently, just 46% say that reducing crime should be a top priority,
down from 54% in January 2008.

In the past year, the percentage of Democrats who view reducing
crime as a major goal has fallen sharply – from 62% to 47%. Far fewer
women and college graduates also rate crime reduction as a top priority
(down 13 points and 12 points, respectively).

Dueling Agendas

The fundamental gaps between Democratic and Republican priorities
seen in previous years remain largely the same today.  Democrats place
a far higher priority on issues related to the poor, on the environment
and on education than do Republicans. And Republicans place a higher
priority on defense and illegal immigration than do Democrats. 

As was the case a year ago, the single biggest partisan gap comes
over how much priority to place on providing health insurance to the
uninsured. Two-thirds (66%) of Democrats rate this as a top priority
while just 28% of Republicans agree. Similarly, 62% of Democrats say
that dealing with the problems of the poor and needy is a top priority,
compared with 34% of Republicans. By contrast, Republicans place
greater priority on strengthening the military (64% vs. 38% of
Democrats) and dealing with illegal immigration (46% vs. 34%).

Most Want Obama to Focus Domestically

Democrats, independents and Republicans generally agree that it is
more important for President Obama to focus on domestic policy than
foreign policy. The partisan gap has narrowed since January 2008, when
Republicans were evenly split about whether former President Bush
should focus domestically or internationally (45% each). Currently, 66%
of Republicans say it is more important for Obama to focus on domestic
issues while just 14% say he should focus on foreign policy.

A year ago, majorities of Democrats (62%) and independents (60%)
said that Bush should focus more on domestic than foreign policy. Even
higher percentages of those groups express that view about Obama’s
priorities today (75% of Democrats, 73% of independents).

About the Survey

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted
under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates among a
nationwide sample of 1,503 adults, 18 years of age or older, from
January 7-11, 2009 (1,128 respondents were interviewed on a landline
telephone, and 375 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 112 who
had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples
were provided by Survey Sampling International.

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an
iterative technique that matches gender, age, education,
race/ethnicity, region, and population density to parameters from the
March 2007 Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The sample is
also weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and
relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based
on extrapolations from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. The
weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with
both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being
included in the sample.

The following table shows the error attributable to sampling that
would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups
in the survey:


Sample Size

Plus or minus…

Total sample


3.0 percentage points

Form 1 sample


4.0 percentage points

Form 2 sample


4.0 percentage points

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question
wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce
error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.


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Research Associates
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