Half of Americans prioritize protecting the environment over the economy

November 19, 2021, 4:40 PM UTC

The COP26 international climate change conference didn’t get a lot of attention in the United States. Just 17% of Americans say they had heard a lot about it, and 33% said they heard nothing at all, in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll.

But a consistent share of Americans — about half — say they prioritize protecting the environment over protecting jobs. That’s held steady since 2019 even as concerns about the economy have mounte, indicating the weight some Americans place on environmental protection.

Asked which they’d prioritize, Americans rank the environment ahead of jobs by a 52% to 32% margin. That comes during mounting economic concerns, though more about prices than about employment. Asked which way the economy is headed, 54% of Americans say it’s getting worse, and just 16% say it’s getting better.

Prioritizing the environment in a time of economic pessimism contrasts with previous times Americans have been polled on both. In two polls two years ago, about the same share of Americans chose protecting the environment over protecting jobs — with much more economic optimism. And in 2017, while the economic outlook was also high, fewer people chose protecting the environment over protecting jobs. 

Today, Americans in each of four major regions prioritize protecting the environment over protecting jobs, by a margin of at least 15 percentage points. Republicans and Democrats, however, disagree by big margins: 63% of Republicans say jobs should be prioritized while 25% say the environment should be. That compares to 11% and 78% for Democrats.

Asked to look ahead, most Americans expect to feel the effects of climate change in their lifetimes. That includes majorities in every region, 53% of Americans 65 and older, and 59% of Americans overall — a modest uptick from 55% when the question was first asked in 2017.

Climate Change Conference

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between November 14 and November 16, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, and region based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty