Economic Growth vs. Environment: Push Come to Shove, Growth Wins

July 30, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Financial Services

As economic conditions worsen, people asked to choose between protecting the environment or economic growth and development strongly favor economic growth, according to a June Harris Poll conducted online among 2,454 adults aged 18+.

Among the other key findings of the study by Harris Interactive:

  • More than three in five Americans (63%) say economic growth and development are more important to their region, whereas more than one in four (27%) say protecting the environment is more important.


  • Just over 3 in 10 Easterners (31%) say protecting the environment is more important, and 7 in 10 Midwesterners (69%) believe economic growth is more important.
  • The focus on economic growth has grown over the last year:
    • In June of 2007, Americans were more divided, as 48% said economic growth was more important and 43% said protecting the environment was more important.
    • In November 2007, majority said economic growth was more important (51% vs. 37%).
  • US adults are divided on how they perceive things in their own community:
    • 38% say it is going in the right direction while 37% say things have “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.”
    • In November ’07, however, almost half (47%) of adults said things were going off on the wrong track in their community, and one-third (32%) said they were going in the right direction.


  • Looking to the future, just over half of US adults (56%) say the quality of life in the area they live in will decrease for their children and grandchildren, while 44% say it will increase.


  • Younger generations are more optimistic: over half (56%) of Echo Boomers (age 18-31) say the quality of life will increase compared with 38% of Baby Boomers (age 44-62) and one-third (32%) of Matures (aged 63+).

Canadian Findings

In Canada, opinions on some of these topics differ:

  • Canadians are much more positive about the direction of their community: Over three in five (63%) say things in their community are going in the right direction and 37% say they are going off on the wrong track.
  • Canadians are more evenly split on which is more important, economics or environment: 45% say it is economic growth and development, and 44% say protecting the environment.
  • One area Canadians agree with Americans on is the quality of life in their region for children and grandchildren, as 56% of Canadians say it will decrease and 44% say it will increase.

So What?

As the economic woes continue, anything that places the economy versus something else will see economy most likely winning the battle – but, many polls, including earlier Harris Polls, show very strong support for strengthening environmental protections and regulations, Harris said.

Also, most people do not see the hard tradeoff between economic development and protecting the environment: Many say we not only can do both of these but that we should be doing both, according to Harris

About the study: This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 9 and 16, 2008 among 2,454 adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

For the Canadian results, Harris/Decima completed 1,009 online surveys among a random sample of Harris/Decima panel members. The study was conducted between June 9 and 16, 2008. This was a standard panel survey among a random sample of Canadian panel members. In a fashion similar to a telephone study, email addresses from the panel were pulled at random, according to population and gender specifications, in order to make the study representative of the Canadian population by region and gender.

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