COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - A new poll has found that voters in five Western states strongly back efforts to protect the environment, despite a tough economy, with Latinos at the forefront of support for conservation. The survey, released Wednesday, is the first to track voter attitudes on the environment in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Despite the perception that the environment and economy are at odds, the poll’s key findings underscore that voters reject that idea.
Across the five states, an overwhelming majority (84 percent) of voters said they wanted state governments, despite budget cuts, to find the money to protect land, water and wildlife. More than
three-fourths of those polled said they believe it is possible to protect land and water and still have a strong economy.
“Uniformly, people have a strong opinion that choosing between clean land and water and having a good job is a false choice,” said Dr. Walt Hecox, professor at Colorado College and director of the State of the Rockies Project, a partner in releasing the poll. Hecox added that that belief tracks strongly with respondents’ “enthusiasm for renewable energy, which are jobs that are compatible with land and water.”
More than two-thirds of voters said they believe renewable energy will create, not cost jobs.
Hecox says the region’s economy is heavily tied to natural resources and includes mining and energy, recreational activities and agriculture. The unemployment rate for states in the region, he says, is lower than the national average, but the region is reeling from the recession and foreclosure crisis.
“We’ve always been a natural resources-based region and we always will be. Even at the depths of economic despair, the residents care about the quality of where they live,” Hecox said.
The outdoors plays a major role in the lives of the region’s residents, with Latinos at the forefront of support for conservation.
“Latinos make up the strongest base of support for conservation that we have found,” said pollster David Metz.
He noted that other polls done by the firm around conservation issues in the West have found a similar pattern. Latinos were also more willing to tax themselves, he said, to fund conservation programs, compared to other groups in the electorate. Sixteen percent of those polled across the five states were Latino.
Metz said the reasons for the high level of support for conservation among the group may be that there’s “a high community value in having public open spaces and using them.”
Compared to white voters, Latino voters were more concerned about access to state parks and water pollution across the region.
Air pollution topped the list of environmental concerns among both white and Latino voters, in an open-ended question where respondents could voluntarily give any response.
The poll of 2,200 voters, fielded January 23-27, was conducted by the bi-partisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. It was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which is also a funder of New America Media.