Environmentalists like to think that the public is in their corner—that it’s only the pernicious influence of Big Oil and Big Coal that keeps Congress from passing a carbon tax or Obama from nixing the Keystone Pipeline. They’re right that most voters care about the planet, insofar as they’d prefer not to see it trashed, all other things being equal. But all other things aren’t equal. And a lot of those other things rate much higher on Americans’ priority list.
Today Pew Research is highlighting a recent poll that shows that 52 percent of Americans believe protecting the environment should be “a top priority for the president and Congress in 2013.” That’s up 11 percentage points from 2009, though still down from a high of 57 percent in 2006 and 2007.
Those numbers all sound pretty good until you realize that the key word there is “a,” as in, not “the.” In fact, the poll lists 18 possible priorities, ranked by the percentage of respondents who think each one should be at or near the top of the nation’s priority list. “Strengthening nation’s economy” comes in first, followed by “improving job situation” and “reducing budget deficit.” And if “growing the GDP,” “improving the nation’s financial outlook,” and “putting more Benjamins in people’s pockets” had been options in this survey, I have no doubt they would have rounded out the top six.
As it is, “protecting environment" comes in a lackluster 11th, behind “defending against terrorism,” “reducing crime,” “securing Social Security,” and “securing Medicare,” among others. Heck, Americans even care more about “helping poor and needy” than they do about the environment. When was the last time you saw a big legislative package emerge from Washington with the primary intent of helping the poor and needy? The good news for greens is that there is a second environmental priority on Pew’s list: “dealing with global warming.” The bad news is that it ranks dead last, behind “strengthening the military,” “dealing with global trade,” and “dealing with nation’s energy problem.”
What is the nation’s energy problem, exactly? Oh well. Whatever it is, it’s got to be more pressing than global warming, right?
Sigh. Happy Earth Day. Here's the full list of priorities, along with the percentage of Americans who believe each one should be "a top priority":
||Strengthening nation’s economy
||Improving job situation
||Reducing budget deficit
||Defending against terrorism
||Securing Social Security
||Reducing health care costs
||Helping poor and needy
||Dealing with nation’s energy problem
||Strengthening the military
||Dealing with illegal immigration
||Strengthening gun control laws
||Dealing with global trade
||Dealing with global warming
Source: Pew Research