Public Opinion and the Environment: The Nine Types of Americans

In collaboration with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a national survey of 1,576 adults ages 18 or older.

The inaugural poll of Americans’ environmental attitudes, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, reveals that contrary to common rhetoric, the American public is not simply polarized into pro- and anti-environment groups. Instead, the study identifies nine distinct types of Americans, each with a unique understanding of the environment, perspectives on key environmental issues, and different environmental behaviors. It also finds that Americans’ environmental attitudes are partly motivated by political ideology and religion, but are also rooted in how individuals perceive, interact with, and experience nature.

Nine segments of the American public were identified based on a diverse set of attitudinal measures, such as the importance individuals place on environmental protection, what the government’s role should be in regulating it, whether an environmental crisis exists, how individuals see themselves in relation to nature, and how individuals respond when scientific and religious explanations conflict.

The segments range from the “Liberal Greens” on the environmentally friendly side to the “Conservative Browns” on the more anti-environmentalism side. But the data show that the majority of Americans, 65 percent, fall somewhere in the middle, holding complex and nuanced perspectives on the environment.

The study also finds that most Americans say the United States ought to take a leadership role in combatting global warming, and twice as many Americans think the country should participate in international treaty negotiations aimed at addressing its effects as oppose it. However, Americans tend to place a low priority on addressing global warming when compared with other environmental concerns. And few Americans believe that protecting the environment needs to come at a cost of lost economic growth.

To gain a better understanding of the American public’s views on global warming and other environmental issues, the AP-NORC Center and Yale University conducted a nationally representative online survey of 1,576 American adults between November 20 and December 1, 2014.