I bring to the issues you are discussing only a layman's knowledge. My work and that of my colleague Everett Ladd is in public opinion. We conduct no surveys of our own; we rely on data in the public domain—the Gallup, Harris, network/print partnerships such as Gallup and CNN and USA TODAY—to write about public attitudes. We are by no means uncritical admirers of the survey device. It is a blunt instrument ill-suited to many tasks. Still, we believe polls are a useful device to understand a complex public.
We have recently completed a review of public opinion on the environment. Our study focused mostly on attitudes since Earth Day and that will be my focus today. We did, however, review briefly surveys conducted before that time. Our study is different from many we reviewed in preparation for the monograph we wrote because we put views on the environment into context by comparing them to views about other issues. It is useful to know, for example, that in the abstract, Americans say we are spending too little on the environment. But it is also important to know that they say we are spending too little halting the rising crime rate, improving the nation's education system, and improving and protecting the nation's health, and that these issues appear more urgent.
Our review revealed a central weakness of the huge collection of attitudinal data on the environment. Americans have been asked repeatedly in a wide variety of formulations to affirm a core value, in this case the importance of the environment. Each time, not surprisingly, they respond that a clean and healthful environment is important to them. These questions tell us little about what a society with many demands on it is willing to do to advance the value, what trade-offs the public is willing to make for it, or what happens when one important value clashes with another. The pollsters have missed an opportunity to advance our knowledge. Let me briefly outline attitudes today.
In 1995 Americans are committed to a clean environment and to economic growth. What is more, we are optimistic about the country's ability to achieve both. We are confident about science and technology and about our ability to make environmental progress. We continue to believe that the federal government has an important role in meeting environmental objectives.
In 17 iterations of the question Cambridge Reports began to ask in 1976, pluralities or majorities have responded that we can combine material progress and a clean environment. But now, in the 1990s, that belief has substantially broader support than previously. In the latest Cambridge Reports survey, 67 percent agreed that we could have both.
The optimism this and other questions reflect is rooted in Americans' confidence in the nation's technical and scientific prowess. The number saying in 1994 that they have a great deal of confidence in those directing science is virtually identical to the number giving that answer twenty years ago, the first time the