Home > Spotlight Analysis > On Earth Day, Americans Support Principle of Environmental Protection, but Divided over Policy
On Earth Day, Americans Support Principle of Environmental Protection, but Divided over Policy
Joanna Piacenza,

Earth Day serves as a reminder to care for and protect our environment. Although PRRI’s surveys find that Americans stand united on the idea of protecting the earth, the public is much less supportive of and more divided on laws that would do so.


A soaring majority (88 percent) of Americans say that respecting and taking care of the earth is extremely or very important reason for protecting the environment. This attitude stretches across political—85 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents, 92 percent of Democrats—and religious—86 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 89 percent of Catholics, 87 percent of the religiously unaffiliated—divides.

But when it comes to the reality of taking care of the earth, Americans do not speak in unison.

Only 52 percent of Americans strongly favor or favor enacting tougher laws that would protect the environment even if it raises prices or costs jobs. That’s a 36-percentage point drop in support between the idea of taking care of the earth and actual legislation that would help protect it.

There are political divides on the question of tougher laws to protect the environment: 36 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Democrats support such laws. There are also deep religious divides, with white evangelical Protestants (35 percent) showing about half as much support as the religiously unaffiliated (69 percent).

Even more, when asked how much President Barack Obama and Congress should prioritize enacting legislation to address climate change, only 18 percent said it should be their highest priority. Americans were much more likely to say that other issues, such as improving the job situation (58 percent), reducing the budget deficit (45 percent), and reducing health care costs (45 percent), should be their highest priority. Again, political lines divide this issue: six percent of Republicans, 21 percent of independents, and 23 percent of Democrats say climate change legislation should be the highest priority.

For more on American perceptions of climate change, global warming, and environmental policies, read “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.”