Public Preferences for Priority between the Economy and the Environment, 1984-2022

Public Preferences for Priority between the Economy and the Environment, 1984-2022

Source: Gallup News. Note: Share of respondents stating their preferences for the priority given to environmental protection matters or to economic growth matters. Refers to opinions in the United States.

As economic development takes place, environmental concerns are usually on the rise, particularly in advanced economies where public preferences have shifted. Although environmental matters were high on the public agenda in the 1980s and 1990s, they receded in the 2000s. There are several factors at play behind these fluctuations. First, environmental concerns tend to shift with economic conditions. When economic prospects are good, environmental concerns are more prevalent while when economic prospects are more limited, they are less prevalent. For instance, the recession of 2001 and the financial crisis of 2009 were linked with sharp drops in environmental concerns.

Another factor that can explain the decline of environmental concerns relates to the regulation and mitigation of the most visible environmental issues in the 1970s and 1980s, which resulted in improvements. This is particularly the case for air emission standards, such as vehicles that became less polluting and more energy-efficient. Many institutions were created to regulate environmental matters for the sake of the public.

Since 2010, environmental concerns have been on the rise, mostly attributed to growing awareness about climate change and its potential impacts on human activities. However, the Covid-19 pandemic narrowed the gap between priority between the environment and the economy. Still, environmental and economic considerations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Further, environmental concerns remain associated with advanced economic conditions, implying that environmentalism often takes the form of a luxury idealogy undertaken by high-income individuals for performative and virtue signaling purposes.