Public Release: 

Study of environmental attitudes nine distinct segments of American population

Analysis discovers more nuanced view of Americans' opinions on environmental issues than is commonly portrayed in politics and the media

NORC at the University of Chicago

Americans' attitudes about environmental issues aren't simply polarized into pro- and anti-environment, but rather are spread across a diverse spectrum. A new study from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies finds that attitudes about environmental issues are influenced by a combination of experience, interaction with natural environments, and religious and political views about the responsibilities of humankind as a whole, and government in particular.

The study identifies the following nine segments of the American population who each have a distinct set of environmental attitudes:

"The broad labels of 'pro-environment' and 'anti-environment' don't really apply to the vast majority of Americans," said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "This study offers new insight into the American public's perception of their environment, and how that perception is affected by a host of other factors including socioeconomic, political, and religious beliefs."

Some of the key characteristics of each group include:

  • Liberal Greens: Nine percent of the American public, of which 66 percent consider themselves environmentalists. Liberal Greens are very worried about, and highly interested in, environmental issues. Despite their engagement with these issues, however, they generally do not consider themselves to be outdoors people.
  • Outdoor Greens: Ten percent of the American public, and a majority consider themselves to be environmentalists. Outdoor Greens are worried about environmental issues and feel strongly interconnected with nature. They tend to spend a lot of time outdoors.
  • Religious Greens: Fourteen percent of the American public, and place a high importance on protecting the environment, many for religious reasons. Most think the environmental crisis is serious. They don't tend to spend much time outdoors, however.
  • Middle-of-the-Roaders: Ten percent of the American public hold a mixture of environmental opinions as they lean brown or green on various issues. Middle-of-the-Roaders are generally concerned about the environment but also like things the way they are, and tend to believe technology can solve our environmental problems.
  • Homebodies: Twenty percent of the American public, Homebodies are the largest segment of the population. They do not consider themselves to be environmentalists and tend towards apathy when it comes to environmental issues.
  • Disengaged: Six percent of the American public, and have few opinions on environmental issues, which do not resonate with them.
  • Outdoor Browns: Fifteen percent of the American public, Outdoor Browns enjoy outdoor activities but tend to believe nature primarily serves a purpose for humans. They generally lean toward anti-environmental opinions, and don't express interest in environmental issues.
  • Religious Browns: Eight percent of the American public, are highly religious, and feel the most separated from nature of any group. Religious Browns do not enjoy outdoor activities, and express strongly anti-environmental views.
  • Conservative Browns: Eight percent of the American public; Conservative Browns are adamantly anti-environmentalist. Although many engage in outdoor activities, few express interest in the environment and most do not believe there is an environmental crisis.

"This study provides a new framework for understanding the diversity of American views and relationships with the natural world, and how those views affect environmental behavior, lifestyles, and policy preferences," said Anthony Leiserowitz, a faculty member of The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "A particularly interesting finding is that 'green' attitudes are not the only drivers of some pro-environmental behaviors. Some 'anti-environmental' groups also report high rates of energy saving actions, but do so primarily for pocketbook, not environmental reasons."

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About the Survey

The survey on which the study was based was funded by The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and conducted by GfK using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Interviews were conducted between Nov. 20 and Dec. 1, 2014, with 1,576 adults age 18 and over from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The recruitment rate for this study, reported by GfK, was 14 percent, and the profile rate was 63.6 percent, for a cumulative response rate of 4.3 percent. The overall margin of error is +/- 2.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. A full description of the study methodology can be found at the end of the report.

The proper description of the study authorship is as follows: This study was conducted jointly by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

About The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world. http://www.apnorc.org

The Associated Press is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world's population sees news from AP. http://www.ap.org

NORC at the University of Chicago is an independent research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business, and policy decisions. Since 1941, NORC has conducted groundbreaking studies, created and applied innovative methods and tools, and advanced principles of scientific integrity and collaboration. Today, government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge. http://www.norc.org

The two organizations have established The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to conduct, analyze, and distribute social science research in the public interest on newsworthy topics, and to use the power of journalism to tell the stories that research reveals.

About The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Founded in 1900, The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (FES) is the oldest institution of higher learning devoted to conservation and natural resource management in the United States. Now in its second century, FES prepares new leadership and creates new knowledge to sustain and restore the long-term health of the biosphere and the well-being of its people. We educate women and men to guide human activity at the local, national, and global levels with a comprehensive understanding of the environmental, economic, and social effects of their choices. We create new knowledge in the science of sustainability and new methods of applying that knowledge to the challenge of environmental management, the restoration of degraded environments, and the pursuit of sustainable development. environment.yale.edu

Contact: For more information, contact Eric Young for NORC at young-eric@norc.org or 703-217-6814 (cell); Anthony Leiserowitz for Yale at anthony.leiserowitz@yale.edu; Geoff Feinberg for Yale at geoffrey.feinberg@yale.edu; Ray Boyer for NORC at boyer-ray@norc.org or (312) 330-6433; or Paul Colford for AP at pcolford@ap.org or info@apnorc.org.

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