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Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals
opinion. Fifty-seven percent chose, "Some people say Congress should maintain strong requirements in the Endangered Species Act because certain plants and animals could become extinct if they are not protected, and some of these plants and animals might be used for medical cures or to develop disease resistant crops." About a third, 32 percent, chose, "Other people say Congress should relax certain requirements of the Endangered Species Act, because these requirements can slow down or even stop business growth and development in order to protect all endangered plants and animals." These alternatives are leading and contrived. It is not surprising that different kinds of questions come up with different findings. A question posed by Roper Starch Worldwide for Time Mirror Magazines illustrates. The question is set up this way: In 1972, Congress passed a law called the Endangered Species Act. This law requires the federal government to take whatever steps necessary to prevent any type of plant, animal, or insect species from becoming extinct, even at a cost to landowners, businesses, or the local economies where the species live. When asked what government policy should be, 63 percent said that the endangered species policy should take account of costs, while only 29 percent said that all species should be saved.
In areas with little public knowledge, responses—particularly hypothetical ones—can be highly misleading. Groups representing various positions in conflicts, such as the one over reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, like to claim they have public opinion on their side. We simply don't know if they do.
I'll say just a word about the politics of the environmental issue. When the issue emerged, neither political party had a particularly strong advantage on handling the issue. Over the years, however, the Democrats have developed and maintained a strong lead over the Republicans. Yet although Democrats generally and Democratic candidates are seen as better able to protect the environment, election results seem to suggest that the issue is not a significant one for most voters. In most of the exit polls where pollsters have included the category "environment" in a list of most important problems, only a small number have said the issue was one of the most important to them in casting their votes. Those voters have pulled the lever for Democrats. In 1994, however, the issue appeared to work for the GOP in the West. The national exit polling consortium of the four networks and AP, Voter News Service, did not include the "environment" in their list of most important problems facing the nation. But VNS did ask voters in the West whether Clinton environmental or land use policies had helped their states, hurt their states, or had no effect. In eight of nine western states, voters said the policies had hurt their states. These voters voted for GOP candidates. Only in Colorado, where voters said the policies had had no effect, did voters vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. When a public agrees on the ends we as a society should pursue, something we did in the 1970s about the environment, we tend to disengage