A majority of Americans, 55%, express “a great deal” of worry about the pollution of drinking water in the U.S., which remains their top environmental concern of six problems tested. Half of U.S. adults express the same degree of worry about the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
Although roughly four in 10 Americans worry a great deal about the other four issues tested — extinction of plant and animal species, the loss of tropical rain forests, global warming or climate change, and air pollution — majorities say they worry at least “a fair amount” about each, according to Gallup research.
Gallup has tracked worry about each of these problems annually since 2000, except for 2005, with concern about water pollution consistently ranking at the top of the list of environmental issues. The latest findings, from a March 1-23 poll, show modest declines in worry since last year for most of the problems.
The percentages of Americans expressing a great deal of worry about air pollution and the loss of tropical rain forests have each fallen seven points since 2022, while worry about extinction of plant and animal species has declined five points, and the pollution of natural waterways and global warming or climate change are down four points each. Meanwhile, last year’s 57% high-level worry about polluted drinking water is statistically similar to this year’s 55%.
Each of the current readings is at or tied for its lowest point since 2015 or 2016.
The dips in worry about the six environmental issues over the past year are due almost entirely to Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, whose level of worry has eased as President Joe Biden has taken significant actions on the environment, according to the Gallup report.
This includes passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last August, which included the largest federal investments in actions to address climate change.
Blame it on the Democrats?
Whereas majorities of Democrats expressed a great deal of worry about each problem in 2022, they express less concern on each this year, with readings below 50% for three — air pollution, the loss of tropical rain forests, and the extinction of plant and animal species. Top-level concerns about these three problems have not been below 50% among Democrats and leaners since Barack Obama’s presidency, in 2012 (for air pollution) and 2016 (for loss of tropical rain forests and extinction of plants and animals).
At the same time, Republicans’ and Republican-leaning independents’ degrees of worry about the six environmental problems have been largely stable in the past few years.
Partisans continue to differ sharply in the amount of worry they express about each of the issues. The gap between the two parties is greatest for global warming or climate change (48 points), air pollution (26 points), and drinking-water pollution (23%).
Of six environmental problems, pollution of drinking water and of lakes, rivers and reservoirs are what Americans worry most about. Worry has dipped since last year, largely because of Democrats, who are most likely feeling more encouraged about the problems after numerous actions Biden has taken. These include his signing the Inflation Reduction Act and tightening environmental protections that had been loosened under former President Donald Trump. Indeed, Biden’s approval rating for his handling of the environment is 80% among Democrats.
By Megan Brenan / Gallup