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A new poll tracking the conservation attitudes of residents of the six Rocky Mountain States shows that support is strong for greater protection of public lands and investment in renewable energy. It also offers some clues to why public policy does not dovetail with public opinion in those areas.
While support for more conservation has remained constant during the three years since the poll began, David Metz, who works for the Democratic-leaning polling company Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, said he set out this year to understand why western politics and policy depart in some ways from public opinion.
He learned that 54 percent of Rocky Mountain residents are unaware of how their leaders have voted with regard to protecting land, air and water. “People don’t have a clear idea of what their elected officials are doing,” Mr. Metz said.
For example, more than two-thirds of people interviewed either said that no drilling was taking place on public lands or that they didn’t have enough information to answer whether it was or not. In reality, 38 million public acres across the United States, including land in 42 national park units are leased for oil and gas drilling, something that most western lawmakers support.
“There’s a mismatch,” Mr. Metz said. “One of our goals with this poll is to show a common scientific set of data to better connect where public officials are and where the public is.”
From a January 24 article in the Des Moines Register:
The bipartisan poll conducted earlier this month by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies found that 63 percent of Iowans support the three-eighths of 1 percent increase, as compared to 34 percent opposed.
The voters we talk to across America can tell you a lot about what Washington has done wrong: the bickering; the perceived lack of attention to the important issues facing the country; the redundancy and waste. The glum ratings they report to pollsters like us are not just attributable to concern about the economy, but often are grounded in skepticism about whether or not their leaders are up to the tasks at hand.
In a national survey we co-conducted entering the height of the political campaign season on behalf of the National Institute on Civil Discourse, fewer than one American voter in ten has “a great deal of confidence” in elected officials to solve the problems facing the country. Instead, voters described feeling “frustrated,” “worried,” and even “ashamed” when they think about their elected officials. This deep dissatisfaction is one of the few things that unites Democrats, Republicans and independents in this election season.
The bright spot amidst this gloom in voters’ characterization of how well government functions today? Americans see the nation’s public lands as emblematic of something government has gotten right. Three-quarters of the national electorate (77 percent) agrees that “One of the best things our government does best is to protect and preserve our national history and natural beauty through national parks, forests, and other public lands.” That sentiment holds true across the political spectrum and across the nation.
National research conducted on behalf of The Nature Conservancy this past summer, and a survey of Western voters conducted on behalf of Colorado College earlier this year demonstrates that voters perceive public lands as a job well done on several levels: a vital resource for their quality of life, while at the same time an engine for their local economy.
Fully 87 percent of American voters agree that their “state and national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of my state’s quality of life.” A near-unanimous 96 percent of those we polled in six inner West states likewise agreed.
But voters don’t stop there. Seven-in-ten Americans and nine in ten Westerners agree that these public lands are “an essential part” of their state’s economy. Think about it: in six states with some of the highest proportions of land in public hands, voters were even more likely to view those lands as a valuable economic resource. The numbers quantify what voters tell us in Western focus groups: that public lands bring tourists, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists to spend money in their communities; that their neighbors moved there for the clean air, trails, and trout fishing; that a growing company chose their town because they knew future workers would find the nearby natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities desirable too.
We have consistently seen that three-quarters of Americans believe we can “protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.” To hear some pundits and politicians describe it, voters must view their land, water and wildlife as either a source of jobs or as the foundation of a healthy environment – and never both. Yet these surveys demonstrate that Americans reject trying to pit the economy against the environment, just as much as they reject combative politics today. Amidst all their cynicism and negativity, voters across the political spectrum see public lands as a shining example of how government can get more things right.
Republicans may have attempted to capitalize on the failure of Solyndra. A Congressional investigation into the US$535m Department of Energy loan is still ongoing and the US Oversight and Investigations Committee has expanded its inquiry to loans awarded to First Solar.
But has Solyndra’s collapse earned valuable political capital for the party’s presidential candidate in this November’s elections?
Solyndra’s failure may be an attempt to win votes, seems to be the answer from pollsters on both sides of the aisle, but from Republicans opposed to Barack Obama’s administration rather than opponents of clean energy.
David Metz, partner at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) in Oakland, California and Lori Weigel, partner at Public Opinion Strategies in Golden, Colorado, worked together on a national survey that asked how members of the public recalled the failure of the solar company.
In some cases, those polled couldn’t even recall Solyndra’s name until prompted, said Weigel.
“We had done a survey of renewable energy a few weeks before and wanted to get a very clean read on how much had people seen or heard about Solyndra.
“In focus groups people often refer to it but they often get the name wrong or they know there’s something out there but not exactly sure what it was.”
The survey found that the Solyndra story had “fairly concentrated recall” among Republicans. Of the 800 people surveyed, 41% who said that they had “heard a great deal” were Republican, 21% independent and 16% Democrat.
Weigel, a Republican, and Metz, a Democrat, both agree that support for the clean energy industry does not always split uniformly down partisan lines even after Solyndra.
“There’s an important distinction that we need to draw between the attitudes of Republican primary voters and the attitudes of Republican voters more broadly,” said Metz.
“About 35% of the population identifies as Republican. About 17–18% will be Republicans who also vote in primary elections and they are much more conservative on issues relating to clean energy and the environment. They’re much more negative about Solyndra and government involvement in developing these industries and more supportive of fossil fuels. When you look at the rest of the Republican party who are not active primary voters, they tend to be supportive much like the rest of the population on issues relating to energy.”
Weigel said: “What we hear is very consistent across the country that when people think about renewable energy they equate that with the future of energy.
FM3 Partner Dave Metz recently conducted a survey of California voter about issues related to software piracy. The following op-ed by Mr. Metz was published by Capitol Weekly on February 21, 2012. Below is an excerpt from the piece; it can be viewed in its entirety on the Capitol Weekly website by clicking here.
The vast majority of California voters support a legislative crackdown on information-technology piracy, based on their desire to prevent economic damage and job loss in California.
This is one important takeaway from our firm’s recent voter survey on the skyrocketing use of illegal, unlicensed software in the state and around the world by businesses, individuals and even government agencies.
By wide margins, voters think the consequences of software piracy go well beyond the technology industry, impacting many other businesses and the economy as a whole. A striking 84 percent of those we surveyed believe California loses jobs to non-American companies using stolen technology.
Most voters say they personally would never use unlicensed technology and they strongly reject the notion that IT theft is a victimless crime. They make no distinction between stealing in general and the use of unlicensed computer software.
Those surveyed believe companies have the right to protect themselves from theft and virtually all of them believe that laws should protect against software piracy. This is a clear indication that voters would look favorably on state policy makers who protect the economy and jobs by supporting legislation to prevent the use and proliferation of stolen information technology products.
In fact, the survey shows that 88 percent of voters support enacting a law requiring state agencies and their contractors to use only legally licensed software products. Voters of all demographic groups, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or party registration want to ensure that state government and its contractors do not use stolen software.
FM3 recently teamed up with Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies for the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll. The full report can be found here. The survey found that western voters across the political spectrum – from Tea Party supporters to those who identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement – support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife. They also view America’s parks and public lands as essential to their state’s economy, and quality of life
The survey was widely covered in the media this week. Here are a few news items and blog posts that explore the findings of the survey in more detail:
Today the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project released a new poll demonstrating that westerners of political affiliations ranging from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street support strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, and the public lands that belong to all of us.
Pollsters Dave Metz and Lori Weigel, representatives of Democratic and Republican polling firms, spoke to ThinkProgress about the results of their “Conservation in the West” poll, which was conducted amongst registered voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Metz told us that the surprising results show how conservation is “a pretty unique issue in the current political environment”:
And one of the things that were most interesting about this survey is the degree to which Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the West really share some common values when it comes to public lands and their importance, both to their quality of life and to the economy. What we found was that roughly 9 out of 10 westerners, regardless of party affiliation, believe that public lands in their state play an important role, not just in their quality of life, but as a driver of their economy. And to see that kind of agreement and unanimity across party lines reflects a pretty unique issue in the current political environment.
The survey, completed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), found that swing voters across the West – who may be key to deciding the presidential race – nearly unanimously agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of the economies of these states. Four in five Western voters view having a strong economy and protecting land and water as compatible.
Two-thirds of Western voters say America’s energy policy should prioritize expanding use of clean renewable energy and reducing the need for more coal, oil and gas. Even in states like Wyoming and Montana, which are more often associated with fossil fuels, voters view renewable energy as a local job creator according to the survey.
“Western voters consistently believe that conservation helps create and protect jobs for their states,” said Dave Metz in a press release. “In fact, by a 17 point margin, voters are more likely to say that environmental regulations have a positive impact on jobs in their state rather than a negative one.”
Seven in 10 Western voters support implementation of the Clean Air Act, and updating clean air standards. They see regulations designed to protect land, air, water and wildlife as having a positive impact on public safety (70 percent), the natural beauty of their state (79 percent) and their quality of life (72 percent).
For the first time during this tumultuous political season, Coloradans and Westerners in general have found something to agree on: the value of America’s public lands to both our economy and quality of life.
The proof is in the polling.
According to the “Conservation in the West” poll released Monday by Colorado College, 93 percent of Colorado voters surveyed believe our national parks, forests and wildlife areas are a vital part of the state’s economy. The prevailing sense among Westerners that habitat and the environment don’t need to suffer for the sake of economic growth is undeniable. And that sentiment is echoed loudly by voting sportsmen.
The survey conducted in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana showed near-universal agreement (92 percent) on the value of public lands, strong support (two-thirds) for renewable energy development over traditional fossil- fuel exploration and opposition (nearly two-thirds) to allowing private companies to develop public lands when it would limit the public’s access and enjoyment of those lands.
While the majority of the 2,400 voters polled consider themselves politically conservative or moderate, the survey completed by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm) spanned voters across the political spectrum, including supporters of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.
Four out of five of those Western voters view a strong economy and protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife as compatible.
A large majority of Utah hunters and anglers are concerned about loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, water pollution and funding cuts for state parks.
They are less worried about the impact of oil and gas drilling on the land, toxins and pesticides in food and drinking water, and inadequate water supplies. Many think companies should have greater access to public lands for mining, drilling, timber harvest and other extractive development.
Those were among the results of the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll released Monday. The survey covered Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and those who identified themselves as hunters and anglers were broken out of the main poll.
The survey found that 92 percent of hunters and anglers — the majority of whom identify politically as conservative or moderate — believe that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an “essential part” of the economies of their states. Nearly two-thirds of sportsmen opposed allowing private companies to develop public lands when it would limit the public’s enjoyment of, or access to, these lands.
The sample size of 153 Utah sportsmen showed that they want to both protect the land and grow the economy through development of public land resources.
A survey of Westerners shows overwhelming support for conservation of the landscape, with strong pluralities agreeing that “national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas, are an essential part” of their state economies.
In the states of Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, some of which rank among the “reddest” states, politically, in the country, the survey showed a broad bipartisan support for a clean, healthy environment.
Despite the sluggish economy and various calls for more development on public lands, the survey of 2,400 registered voters in thsoe six states found growing support for protection of public lands and resources and a declining belief that protections of these places often are in conflict with strong economies.