Americans Increasingly Concerned About the Planet They’re Leaving Behind for Future Generations

Multi-ethnic group of children (3 to 5 years) at community garden, holding seedlings.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – April 16, 2014 – With Earth Day nearing once again, a new Harris Poll finds that 44% of Americans – up from 38% last year – say that the statement “I am concerned about the planet we are leaving behind for future generations” describes them completely or very well; an additional 26% say it describes them fairly well. In the meantime, a majority of Americans (56%) say the current focus on the environment in our society is not going far enough.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,244 adults surveyed online between March 11 and 16, 2015.

Changing attitudes towards climate change

While the overall belief that global climate change exists is all but unchanged since last year (with roughly three-fourths of Americans believing it exists), attitudes are shifting when it comes to causality: the percentage of Americans believing humans to be the main cause of global climate change has increased from 45% to 51% year over year, while the percentage who believe it exists but that its causes aren’t related to humans dropped from 30% to 25%. It’s worth noting, though, that over half (55%) of Americans feel the severity of the past winter calls global climate change into question.

Is it easy being green?

Many Americans are making an effort to be more environmentally conscious, with one third of U.S. adults (33%) agreeing that they’re making more of an effort to do so than a year ago. However, Americans remain divided on whether it’s easy (45%) or difficult (49%) to live a green or environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Organic attitudes

Americans show little consensus in how they feel towards organic products. On one hand, a 57% majority believes labeling food or other products as “organic” is just an excuse to charge more and an identical majority disagrees with the characterization of organic as tasting better or fresher than non-organic. On the other hand, a similar majority of 56% believes organic foods are healthier in comparison to non-organic, but otherwise similar, products.

 

Playing politics

The environment continues to be a point of widespread dissent at the political level, starting with the question of global climate change. One-fourth of Republicans (25%) don’t believe it exists, compared to just 4% of Democrats and one-in-ten independents (10%). Republicans (36%) are also more likely than Democrats (17%) – with Independents (26%) falling between the two – to say that it exists but that its causes are mainly not related to humans, while Democrats (68%) and Independents (53%) are both far more likely than Republicans (28%) to say that it exists and humans are the main cause.

Democrats and Independents (41% and 40%, respectively) are also more likely than Republicans (30%) to see environmental and economic goals as often aligned, while Republicans (38%) are more likely to believe a choice needs to be made between the two (vs. 29% each Democrats and Independents).

As to the question of whether our society’s current focus on the environment is going too far or not far enough, a strong majority of Democrats (73%) and a slim majority of Independents (54%) say “not far enough,” with 35% of Republicans indicating the same. Four in ten Republicans (39%), one-fourth of Independents (24%) and fewer than one-in-ten Democrats (7%) say “too far.”

 

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TABLE 1a

ENVIRONMENTAL STATEMENTS & LABELS

Summary Table

“To what extent, if any, does each of the following statements describe you?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Very well/

Completely (NET)

Completely

Very well

Fairly well

Somewhat well/Not at all (NET)

Somewhat

well

Does not describe me at all

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I am concerned about the planet we are leaving behind for future generations.

44

19

25

26

30

20

10

I personally care a great deal about the current state, and future, of the environment.

38

16

22

30

31

23

9

I am environmentally-conscious.

33

11

23

30

36

26

10

I feel a personal responsibility for taking care of the environment.

30

11

19

30

40

26

13

I encourage others to be more environmentally-friendly.

30

11

19

27

43

23

19

I am a conservationist.

22

8

14

29

49

27

22

I am “green.”

20

7

14

27

53

31

21

I am an environmentalist.

17

7

10

25

58

27

31

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 1b

ENVIRONMENTAL STATEMENTS & LABELS

Trend

“To what extent, if any, does each of the following statements describe you?”

Summary of those saying “Very well” or “Completely”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2009

Total

2010

Total

2012 Total

2013 Total

2014 Total

2015 Total

%

%

%

%

%

%

I am concerned about the planet we are leaving behind for future generations.

43

36

34

37

38

44

I personally care a great deal about the current state, and future, of the environment.

36

34

31

38

36

38

I am environmentally-conscious.

30

29

27

31

31

33

I feel a personal responsibility for taking care of the environment.

29

29

27

30

28

30

I encourage others to be more environmentally-friendly.

26

25

24

28

27

30

I am a conservationist.

17

20

20

23

19

22

I am “green.”

13

18

17

22

19

20

I am an environmentalist.

13

16

16

18

15

17

Note: Multiple responses.

 

 


 

TABLE 1c

ENVIRONMENTAL STATEMENTS & LABELS

By Gender, Parental Status & Political Party

“To what extent, if any, does each of the following statements describe you?”

Summary of those saying “Very well” or “Completely”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Total

Gender

Children under 18 in household

Political Party

Male

Female

Yes

No

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I am concerned about the planet we are leaving behind for future generations.

44

44

43

44

44

34

54

43

I personally care a great deal about the current state, and future, of the environment.

38

39

38

35

40

29

49

37

I am environmentally-conscious.

33

33

34

31

34

27

40

33

I feel a personal responsibility for taking care of the environment.

30

30

31

31

30

24

40

29

I encourage others to be more environmentally-friendly.

30

29

32

29

31

24

37

30

I am a conservationist.

22

22

21

17

23

18

24

22

I am “green.”

20

20

21

19

21

14

23

23

I am an environmentalist.

17

16

18

16

18

10

22

19

Note: Multiple responses.

 

TABLE 2

EFFORT TO BE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS

By Trend, Gender & Political Party

 “Would you say that you are making more effort, less effort or about the same amount of effort to be environmentally conscious than you were a year ago?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2009 Total

2013 Total

2014 Total

2015 Total

Gender

Children under 18 in household

Political Party

Male

Female

Yes

No

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

More effort

45

32

34

33

30

36

39

31

31

38

31

Same amount of effort

51

63

64

65

67

63

59

67

67

60

68

Less effort

3

5

2

2

3

2

2

2

2

2

1

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

 

 


 

TABLE 3

EASY OR DIFFICULT TO LIVE A GREEN LIFESTYLE

By Trend, Gender, Political Party

“How easy or difficult do you think it is to live a green or environmentally conscious lifestyle?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2013 Total

2014 Total

2015 Total

Gender

Children under 18 in Household

Political Party

Male

Female

Yes

No

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Easy (NET)

47

45

45

43

47

44

46

42

50

45

     Very easy

10

10

35

33

36

34

35

34

37

34

     Somewhat easy

36

35

11

10

11

10

11

8

13

11

Difficult (NET)

49

50

49

50

48

52

48

50

46

51

     Somewhat difficult

39

41

9

10

7

8

9

10

7

9

     Very difficult

9

9

40

40

41

44

39

40

40

42

Not at all sure

5

5

6

7

4

4

6

7

4

4

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 


 

TABLE 4a

AGREEMENT WITH “GREEN” STATEMENTS

Summary Table

“Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat

disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

I prefer to use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies because of the chemicals contained in traditional cleaning products.

58

15

43

42

27

15

I think labeling food or other products as “organic” is just an excuse to charge more.

57

17

40

43

27

16

I think organic foods are healthier in comparison to non-organic, but otherwise similar, products.

56

14

42

44

27

17

I worry about the freshness of my produce due to the distance it travels to my grocery store.

55

14

42

45

27

18

I think washing dishes by hand is more environmentally friendly than using the dishwasher.

48

16

32

52

32

19

I think organic food tastes better/fresher than non-organic.

43

11

32

57

33

24

I am concerned about the “carbon footprint” caused by transporting fresh produce to my grocery store.

40

8

32

60

35

24

I often don’t buy organic food because I think it goes bad faster.

25

5

20

75

38

37

I feel guilty if I buy non-organic fruits and vegetables.

17

3

15

83

29

54

I judge people who only buy organic food.

15

4

11

85

21

64

I judge people who do not buy organic food.

9

2

7

91

18

73

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

 

 


 

TABLE 4b

AGREEMENT WITH “GREEN” STATEMENTS

By Gender, Region & Political Affiliation

“Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

Summary of those saying “Strongly agree” or “Somewhat agree”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2013 Total

2015 Total

Generation

Political Affiliation

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I prefer to use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies because of the chemicals contained in traditional cleaning products.

60

58

60

56

58

61

50

63

60

I think labeling food or other products as “organic” is just an excuse to charge more.

59

57

55

55

60

61

67

50

58

I think organic foods are healthier in comparison to non-organic, but otherwise similar, products.

55

56

68

53

52

42

49

58

59

I worry about the freshness of my produce due to the distance it travels to my grocery store.

56

55

60

52

55

51

50

59

56

I think washing dishes by hand is more environmentally friendly than using the dishwasher.

48

48

56

46

47

38

40

53

50

I think organic food tastes better/fresher than non-organic.

41

43

54

42

40

28

36

46

46

I am concerned about the “carbon footprint” caused by transporting fresh produce to my grocery store.

39

40

44

43

38

31

28

48

41

I often don’t buy organic food because I think it goes bad faster.

23

25

29

20

24

26

28

22

24

I feel guilty if I buy non-organic fruits and vegetables.

18

17

26

17

13

6

12

20

17

I judge people who only buy organic food.

16

15

26

10

10

10

12

16

17

I judge people who do not buy organic food.

9

9

17

6

7

3

5

11

10

Note: Multiple responses.


 

TABLE 5

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE CAUSED BY HUMANS OR NOT

“Which of these best describes your feelings towards global climate change?”

Base: All adults

 

2014 Total

2015 Total

Generation

Gender

Political Party

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen X

(38-49)

Baby Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Men

Women

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I believe it exists and humans are the main cause

45

51

55

53

48

48

53

49

28

68

53

I believe it exists but that its causes are mainly not related to humans

30

25

25

22

25

32

25

26

36

17

26

I do not believe it exists

13

11

8

12

14

11

13

9

25

4

10

Unsure

12

13

13

13

13

9

9

16

12

11

12

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 6

SEVERITY OF PAST WINTER CALLS GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE INTO QUESTION

By Gender & Political Party

“How strongly do you agree or disagree that the severity of this past winter calls global climate change into question?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Total

Gender

Political Party

Male

Female

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

Agree (NET)

55

50

59

52

60

50

     Strongly agree

17

19

15

15

22

16

     Somewhat agree

38

31

44

37

39

34

Disagree (NET)

45

50

41

48

40

50

     Somewhat disagree

22

22

22

27

15

25

     Strongly disagree

23

28

19

21

25

25

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 


 

TABLE 7

SOCIETY’S CURRENT FOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT GOING TOO FAR OR NOT FAR ENOUGH

By Generation, Gender & Political Party

“Would you say that the current focus on the environment in our society is going too far or not far enough?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Political Party

Millennials

(18-37)

Gen X

(38-49)

Baby Boomers

(50-68)

Matures

(69+)

Men

Women

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Not far enough

56

67

52

53

44

55

57

35

73

54

Too far

21

15

23

22

29

26

17

39

7

24

Not at all sure

23

18

24

25

27

19

26

26

20

22

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 8

SOCIETY’S CURRENT FOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT GOING TOO FAR OR NOT FAR ENOUGH

By Education, HH Income & Political Party

“Some people say that environmental goals and economic goals are in conflict and that we have to choose between them in the decisions we make.  Other people say that environmental goals are often aligned, and that you do not have to choose between them.  Which is closer to your opinion?”

Base: All adults

 

2009 Total

2015 Total

Education

Annual HH Income

Political Party

HS or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

<$35k

$35k-<$50k

$50k-<$75k

$75k-<$100k

$100k+

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Environmental and economic goals are often aligned

51

37

30

38

38

57

32

29

36

44

45

30

41

40

Have to choose between environmental and economic goals

31

31

30

30

37

23

30

34

32

29

28

38

29

29

Not at all sure

18

33

40

32

26

19

38

37

32

27

27

32

30

31

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between March 11 and 16, 2015 among 2,244 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #21, April 16, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll