Whether to prioritize the environment or the economy splits American opinion

Oana DumitruSurvey Data Journalism Intern
Taylor OrthSenior Survey Data Journalist
July 01, 2022, 9:27 PM GMT+0

Most Americans hadn't heard of the West Virginia v. EPA Supreme Court case before the Court issued its decision Thursday, striking down an Environmental Protection Agency plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants. Majorities of Americans are not aware of this specific case but support giving the EPA authority to limit emissions even if individual industries are harmed. Americans are split on whether to prioritize protecting the environment or stimulating the economy, with big gaps between the two major political parties. 

Most Americans (65%) said before the ruling that they had heard nothing at all about the West Virginia v. EPA Supreme Court case, with 28% reporting having heard a little, and only 7% having heard a lot about it, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. More Democrats (44%) know at least a little bit about the case than do Republicans (29%) and Independents (34%).

Regardless of their knowledge about this specific case, Americans are evenly split on a more general question about the role of federal agencies. While 36% think federal agencies should be able to write regulations that enforce laws passed by Congress, even if they could hurt individual industries, 36% disagree. Most Democrats (56%) support of federal agencies writing regulations that enforce laws passed by Congress, while only 13% of Republicans agree and 60% oppose.

By 55% to 45%, Americans support the EPA writing regulations to protect the environment, even if those regulations could harm individual industries. Four in five (80%) of Democrats think that the EPA should be able to write regulations to protect the environment even if it comes at the expense of individual industries, while 28% of Republicans agree and 72% think that the EPA should not be able to do so. About half (52%) of Independents and 72% of Republicans agree that the EPA should not be able to write such regulations.

The conflict between environmental needs and the economy splits the country, too. As economic concerns motivate many, 50% of Americans prioritize protecting the environment over stimulating the economy while 50% choose stimulating the economy. Three in four Democrats (73%) choose the environment over the economy, while just 20% of Republicans agree.

— Linley Sanders and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on June 25 - 28, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll.

Image: Photo by Ella Ivanescu via Unsplash