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from the debate over the means. That has happened at the national level, though the issue is now very potent at the state and local level. If the public perceives that the national consensus is threatened, as some felt Jim Watt and Anne Gorsuch Burford did, the possibility then exists that the issue will engage the public significantly again at the national level.


The 1994 Hart poll for the National Wildlife Federation found that 62 percent rated the overall quality of the air, water, land, and wildlife where the respondent lived as excellent or good, 28 percent as only fair, and 8 percent as poor. The numbers are similar to those obtained by Roper Starch Worldwide. Reinforcing the impression of general satisfaction are the results of a question Hart and Teeter Research Companies posed for Newsweek in 1991. Surveyors asked about a number of problems where the respondent lived. Four in ten said that pollution was really not a problem, while 23 percent described it as just somewhat of a problem. Thirty five percent said it was very or fairly serious. Far more Americans thought that drugs, economic stagnation, the cost of housing, crime, the financial condition of local government, the cost of living—the list goes on—were very serious problems in their community than felt that way about pollution.

Questions asked about the environment nationally produce more pessimistic responses—reflecting a familiar pattern in polls. Americans are far more likely to say crime is a problem in the nation than they are to believe it is a problem in their own communities. Similarly, we tell the nation that education is a big problem for the nation, but that our schools are performing well. We rely more on survey data that asks Americans about things they can expected to have opinions about. Negative national assessments are often calls for leaders to perform better. We continue to want government to be vigilant, and business to be attentive to our concerns, but we are generally satisfied with progress on the environment on the home front.


To conclude, on occasion, a value that was not politically salient or central comes to be seen as essential. The environment made this transition over the 1960s and 1970s. Large majorities of citizens across class and other social group lines are deeply committed to a safe, healthful environment and are prepared to support a variety of actions that seem reasonable in promoting those ends. The challenge opinion research faces when a general value occupies this substantial standing in public thinking is to ensure that specific conclusions are not mistakenly attributed to it. Questions about spending, for example, should be taken as expressions of genuine commitment to a clean environment. Publics assert general values. They do not engage in specific policy choices. It is extremely difficult

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