A new national poll demonstrates that the most negative political voices are distinctly out of touch with the public’s preference for strong regulations to protect the country’s health. Voters aren’t buying the specious “jobs versus clean air/water” argument.
More importantly, they have a clear preference for the findings of Environmental Protection Agency scientists over the talking points of “corporate polluters.”
The poll, conducted October 6-9, 2011 by Public Policy Polling, surveyed 1,249 registered voters across the country. It included voters in 2012 “battleground” states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Colorado, Nevada). There was an “over sampling” of suburban and Latina women, to ensure “rigorous results.”
The ten new polls were conducted for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWV), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In a call with reporters, the results were announced in tandem with remarks by leaders from all the organizations.
The numbers show that a clear majority (70 percent) of those queried were in opposition to Obama’s decision to block the ozone pollution standard. This is one of many examples evidencing that women and Latina women support regulations, and their disappointment with Obama’s walk back skewed higher—79 percent and 71 percent, respectively.
Findings showed that:
- 78 percent of Americans want the EPA to hold corporations responsible for toxins they release into the environment, with 83 percent of women and 80 percent Latina women agreeing.
- 69 percent of Americans agree with health experts who support the reduction of air pollution from industrial sources, rather than those who advocate overruling the EPA to protect jobs, with 75 percent of women and 73 percent of Latina women agreeing.
- 70 percent of Americans support the EPA requiring stricter limits on the amount of toxic chemical industrial facilities can release, with 77 percent of women and 76 percent of Latina women agreeing.
What’s behind these numbers?
Brent A. Wilkes, the National Executive Director of LULAC commented that, “Latinos are more likely to live in counties with air pollution levels that are unhealthy due to fine particulates and ozone” (which cause and exacerbate respiratory problems). He affirmed that Latino children are 60 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic Whites. Any delay of standards presents a clear and present danger. Wilkes also cited that Latino communities are in areas of the highest concentration of pollution. “No one’s really standing up for the Latino community. The EPA is their last defense,” he said, underscoring the environmental justice aspects of his concerns.
The president of the League of Women Voters, Elisabeth MacNamara, spoke to the fact that “women are more traditionally aware of health issues and the effects on families and communities.” She was clear on the premise that, “It’s wrong to play politics with the health of our children and seniors.” She offered, “The voting public is fed up with politicians second guessing the science.” Continuing on that thread, she said, “Children are at risk every day. Women expect the government to be proactive. Women clearly support the EPA.” She particularly referenced the need for stronger regulation on mercury, and tougher—not reductive—standards.
I contacted Tom Jensen, the Director of Public Policy Polling, to get additional insights. The Democratic pollster has received kudos from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Politico for accuracy. He explained the results in terms of the 2012 election, and gave me an example of the polling methodology.
In order to fairly pose a question, two alternative sides of an argument were presented. For example, the American Lung Association position that regulations deaths could be prevented—was the counterpoint to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce belief that a stronger smog standard would limit business expansion and cost jobs.
Jensen stated, “Attacks on clean air and the federal agency charged with protecting the environment and the health of Americans is an unpopular position with most Americans, including those in nine key 2012 battleground states.” He concluded that assaults on the Clean Air Act and the EPA were “likely to be perceived as decidedly extreme and well outside of the mainstream of the public’s thinking.”
For Wesley Warren, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the bottom line was, “If politicians aren’t holding polluters accountable, people have to hold politicians accountable.” He maintained, “President Obama’s decision to delay the ozone air pollution standard put him out of step with the majority of Americans.” He stressed that Independents (68 percent) said the President should not have blocked stronger smog standards, while suburban women from Pennsylvania registered an 87 percent disapproval of his action.
Jensen informed me that the fastest growing sectors of voters are suburban women and Latina women. Now they just have to let candidates know they are strongly motivated to filter their choices through an environmental prism.