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26.5.04

John Kerry Isn't A Trustworthy Source Of Information But I'm Voting For His Policy Anyway

Going Both Ways On The Environment

More than a third of Americans say they don't trust President Bush "at all" as a source of information about the environment, according to a new survey of attitudes about the environment by the Global Strategy Group for the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences. Kerry fares somewhat better, with 24 percent saying they don't trust him on the issue.

But before Kerry's campaign tries to make hay out of that finding, consider the flip side: Although 26 percent of Americans say they trust the president "a lot" for environmental information, only 12 percent say they feel that way about Kerry.

Another survey finding: Survey respondents mentioned environmental concerns (9 percent) almost as often as terrorism (10 percent) as "the most important problem in the United States in the next 20 years." The top-ranking concern is jobs and the economy (17 percent).

-- via The Commons


Amy Ridenour at The Commons says that "The lesson for politicians? Don't bother approaching environmental issues from a political perspective. It won't help you anyway." But I think that's a misreading of the poll. It's not that people distrust the candidates' environmental policies, it's that they distrust the candidates' statements of factual information. I, for one, don't base my understanding of (say) climate change on what John Kerry or George Bush have to say about it. I collect independent information -- from the news, scientific publications, personal experience, etc. Then I match my views on climate change to the policies advocated by the candidates. I don't much care what Kerry says about whether and how the climate is changing, I care what he says about what he's planning to do about it.

This interpretation -- that the candidates should be politicians and discuss policies "from a political perspective," rather than trying to be scientists and tell us how the environment is doing -- is supported by some additional information from Yale's press release:

A majority of Americans (56%) say that the candidates should talk more about their plans for the environment. A significant percentage of the electorate (37%) wants the candidates to talk "much more" about environmental issues.

And the public wants action as well as talk. Eighty-four percent believe the United States should enact stricter emissions and pollution standards for business and industry. This reflects substantial majorities of Democrats (92%), Independents (90%) and Republicans (68%).


In other words, the electorate wants the environment to be an issue, and raising its profile would be likely to help Kerry (he should beware of respondents' reluctance to sacrifice other values for the environment, though they're generally sympathetic to Kerry's view that environmental protection helps the economy). Particularly encouraging from his perspective would be the apparent close agreement on environmental issues between independents and Democrats, which suggests that environmentalism isn't some far left-wing cause that he needs to tone down in order to appeal to swing voters.

One interesting bit in the full report is the generally more positive attitude people have toward their local environment. 51% say that the national environment is "fair" or "poor," while only 43% say the same of their local environment. 67% think that the federal government needs to do more to protect the environment, while 61% say the same of the state and only 55% say their local government needs to do more. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. Perhaps the immediacy of locally-concentrated environmental threats, as compared to the diffuseness of larger-scale ones, means that local governments have had a better record of success than the feds.

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