Environmentalists in Decline

Twenty five years ago almost eight in ten Americans identified as “environmentalists.” Now fewer than half do. A recent Gallup analysis explains the change.

Politicization of the environment and partisan divides explains part of the decline. 

In 1990, roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans claimed to be environmentalists. But over a quarter century, the divide sharpened. By 2000 the gap widened to 15 percent (54 percent to 39 percent) and by 2016, the gap widened to 29 percent (56 percent to 27 percent). The Far Right has successfully demonized environmental regulations and ridiculed “climate change” with Republicants.

But why do 22 percent fewer Democrats identify as environmentalists now compared to 1990?

  • Government worked. Many of the concerns in the 1990’s over water and air pollution were addressed by legislation and EPA regulation. As a result Americans now are significantly less concerned about air pollution (18 percent fewer are “greatly concerned”) and water pollution (12 percent fewer are “greatly concerned”).  


  • Environmentally sensitive behaviors are now more commonplace. Gallup found that a vast majority of Americans recycle, work to reduce their energy consumption, and choose environmentally friendly products.   Today, these habits are so routine compared to 1990 that they lose their association with environmentalism.  


  • Today’s environmental issues have less immediate effects on people’s lives. Climate change and the destruction of rainforests have much less visible and much slower effects on Americans. Although concern about climate change has increased by 4 percent since 1990, today only 39 percent of Americans are “greatly concerned” about climate change. This pales in comparison to the 68 percent of Americans concerned about water pollution in 1990. Climate change simply does not rally the same support as pollution close to home and as a result environmentalism loses some of its appeal.

Big Lesson for Message Crafters this fall
People don’t like the label, but they still support the environment.  Despite the collapse in self-identification as an “environmentalist,” Gallup has found steady support for specific pro-environment policy measures since the 1990’s. Forget the label and concentrate on specific environment friendly policy proposals and how they will affect the everyday lives of voters.  

We invite you to read the 2016 study in Gallup by clicking here.


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