Beyond this, Roper Starch Worldwide has repeated an extensive battery of questions asking people whether they would be willing to see a list of things happen in their communities to protect the environment. The results have been fairly stable over the three years Roper has asked the question. A majority was willing to ban the use of CFCs to reduce harm to the ozone layer even though it may mean that the prices of refrigerators might rise, and a bare majority would ban use of these chemicals even though it might mean home and car air conditioning won't cool as well. But majorities were not willing or did not know whether they would be willing to put a new burden on dry cleaners that might force some of them to go out of business and mean higher costs for consumers, see an increase in utility bills, make us more dependent on other nations, and so forth. Even though the items in this battery are very specific, most respondents have never thought about many of them. How are we to evaluate the response to the item about requiring those who use charcoal grills to use electric lighters rather than lighter fluid. Is the 35 percent figure of those willing to see this happen in their community high or low? Is the question asking whether electric starters might be a good idea or whether a categoric ban on lighter fluid should actually be imposed? The item gives little practical guidance.
The organization asked an interesting battery of questions that get to the heart of the issue about what we are willing to do. The exercise had two parts. The first question asked Americans whether they would favor laws that would help cleanup the environment but make products more expensive. In the abstract, solid majorities favored laws to reduce pollution. The follow-up question asked Americans whether they would be willing to pay a lot or a moderate amount more for these products. Public resistance to paying more was considerable.
Young people are thought to be more committed to environmental improvement than their elders are. Alexander Astin at the University of California at Los Angeles has been probing the attitudes of young people entering college for nearly three decades. Astin finds that these people have consistently said that the government is not doing enough to protect the environment. But the number who said that being involved in environmental cleanup was essential or very important to them dropped from 43 percent in 1971 to 23 percent in 1994.
When the public is not engaged in a specific policy issue, question wording influences their responses. A number of national pollsters have been in the field recently who claim to know what Americans think about reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act and how private property owners should be compensated when regulations cause a loss of value in their property. In many of these areas, the responses are clearly contradictory.
Peter Hart Associates, in its December 1994 survey for the National Wildlife Federation, asked a national sample which of two statements came closer to their