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It's Good to Be Green
Political Junkie

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Polling Director
Monday, March 20, 2000

America is poised to vote clean and green, according to a new national survey of likely voters commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters. The poll revealed a broad national consensus over the need to be more agressive about protecting the environment. It also suggests that environmental issues may be as important as education or health care to voters this year.

"A clean environment is now considered a norm," wrote analysts for Greenberg Quinlan Research, the Washington, D.C.-based research company that conducted the survey. Voters stand ready to "reward public officials who support a clean environment and punish those who do not."

A total of 1,000 self-described likely voters were interviewed Feb. 6-13. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The survey found there is little patience for compromising on the environment. "Voters reject a trade-off between the environment and a strong economy by an overwhelming 71 percent to 22 percent margin," the analysts wrote.

It's a sentiment that crosses party lines: 74 percent of all Democrats but also 67 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of self-described independents say a strong economy and a clean environment are not mutually exclusive.

Voters want the government to get tougher in defense of the environment. Most Americans want either strong enforcement of current environmental laws or want new and stronger laws. About half—53 percent—say that stronger enforcement is what's needed most, while one in four demand tougher laws, they found.

But the survey also suggested that the public doesn't necessarily view enforcement agencies as the scourge of business. A lopsided majority say regulators should help businesses to meet environmental laws; fewer than a third say that enforcement agencies should only serve as environmental cops.

Americans remain deeply divided over the job that the government has done in protecting the country's natural resources. "Voters overall have mixed opinions on government's performance on the environment, and dissatisfaction is based largely on desire for more, not less, action," the analysts wrote.

According to the survey, not even half—42 percent—of those interviewed said the government "does the right thing" on the environment, while nearly as many disagree. "In fact, voters who think government generally does the wrong thing are the strongest advocates for stricter laws and stronger enforcement; so much of this dissatisfaction is based on a call for more action," the analysts wrote.

Americans want those who cause pollution problems to pay for the solutions. Nearly seven in 10 rejected higher taxes to pay to clean up the environment and enforce environmental laws. Nine in 10 said enforcement should be financed by fines to polluters, or by charging higher fees to businesses that generate large amounts of pollution. Four in 10 say consumers should pay "additional sales taxes on polluting products."

These voters said a candidate's record on environmental issues will be critical in determining their vote in November [Related story, Page 13]. About two in three—64 percent—said environmental issues will be important. "After voters are given information on these issues, their importance grows and 81 percent view them as important factors in their decisions," the analysts wrote.

Environmental issues are important to most voters. "The environment has a direct link to people's lives and, when connected to their health and well-being, is particularly powerful as a voting issue," Greenberg Quinlan analysts wrote. "Quality of life concerns—clean water and clean air—have a direct impact on people's everyday lives and when raised as issues, rank near the top of voters's concerns."

Clearly, it's good to be green this election year. More than three in four said they preferred a strong environmentalist to a pro-degregulation candidate. And politicans who are "strong environmentalists are viewed as embodying some positive qualities that are very important in the current political debate," the analysts wrote. Seven in 10 say strong environmentalists "share their values" and an equally large proportion say green candidates have "the right priorities" and were "trustworthy."

Of course, the environment isn't the only issue currently on voters' minds. Education, campaign finance reform, Medicare and Social Security reform, health care and taxes dominated the primary campaigns in both parties.

That hardly means there's no room for the environment this election year. According to the poll, seven in 10 Americans say they're concerned about "clean air and water"—the same proportion who say they're worried about education, crime and drugs and health care.

Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at morinr@clark.net .

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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