This Earth Day finds a large majority (83%) of the American public supporting stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment, and 69% agreeing that “we should put more emphasis on fuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies;” but when potential costs are mentioned, the number agreeing that “people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment” declines to 60%, down a bit since 2003 (65%). In general, however, the public’s view of environmental issues has not changed drastically in recent years. For instance, the percentage of Americans who believe that the nation needs stricter laws on the environment slipped from 90% in 1992 to 82% two years later, but since then has remained fairly stable. In the 2007 survey, however, there has been a sharp increase in partisan differences over whether the nation needs stricter environmental laws. Currently, 95% of Democrats and 85% of independents say that stricter environmental laws are needed, but just 65% of Republicans agree. The views of Democrats and independents have not changed significantly since the 2003 Values Survey, but fewer Republicans support tougher environmental laws and regulations than did so then (79% vs. 65%). And the partisan divide on this issue, which was 17 points in the 2003 survey, has ballooned to 30 points. In 1992, the first time this question was asked, partisan differences were much narrower (seven points). There also are sizable differences within the Republican party over environmental values: Nearly eight-in-ten moderate and liberal Republicans (78%) agree that such laws are needed, but just 58% of conservative Republicans agree. Democrats are unified on the need for tougher environmental laws and regulations. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.