Conservation Is Patriotic in U.S., Poll Finds

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Polling data suggest most Americans believe it's patriotic to preserve natural areas, like this vista at Kings Canyon National Park in California. (Photo: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr)

There aren't many issues that can unite Republicans and Democrats in an election year, but a new national poll seems to have found at least one: conservation. Conducted for the Nature Conservancy by two opinion-research firms — one Democratic and one Republican — the poll found more than four in five Americans consider it a patriotic duty to protect natural resources, regardless of politics.

"From Tea Party Republicans to liberal Democrats, overwhelming majorities of Americans of all political persuasions believe that 'conserving the country's natural resources — land, air and water — is patriotic,'" the pollsters write in a summary of their findings. That includes 89 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents, but the sentiment doesn't only cross political lines. The following percentages of various groups agree that conservation is patriotic:

  • More than 70 percent of registered voters in every U.S. region
  • Voters younger than 35 (84 percent) and those 65 or older (83 percent)
  • Urbanites (79 percent), suburbanites (85 percent) and rural residents (83 percent)
  • Hunters (80 percent), anglers (80 percent) and wildlife watchers (82 percent)
  • Hikers (80 percent), mountain bikers (78 percent) and ATV users (77 percent)

"Overall, it is clear that conservation is an issue that more often unites, rather than divides, the American people," says David Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, the Democratic polling group. And according to Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies, the GOP firm, "Whether it is a general sense of patriotism and pride in national parks, or support for several specific federal policies, the survey finds a great deal in common among Americans regarding their views on conservation."

The poll was conducted by phone with 800 registered voters between June 16-19, and its release this week is timed to coincide with the Fourth of July. As Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek notes in a press release, three-quarters of voters say government is good at preserving "history and natural beauty through national parks, forests and other public lands," which may explain why three-quarters also say they'd rather visit a national park for their summer vacation than a major U.S. city.

"Many, many Americans spend the Fourth of July holiday outdoors — in a local park, at the beach, on the water or in a national park," Tercek says. "In effect, by our actions we are celebrating and enjoying both the creation of our republic and the long history of our country's commitment to conservation of our land and water. These poll numbers reveal that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe in conserving our natural resources and that this is, in fact, patriotic."

Other key findings of the poll include:

  • While 80 percent of voters say the economy is a serious problem, 74 percent don't want to cut federal funding for conservation. In fact, 83 percent are willing to pay more in taxes to protect land, water and wildlife habitat in their area.
  • Voters are twice as likely to say wilderness conservation has a positive impact on job growth (41 percent) than they are to say it has a negative impact (17 percent), or little impact one way or the other (33 percent).
  • That general view on employment holds true in every U.S. region, but voters who participate in outdoor recreation are "much more likely to perceive an economic benefit to protections of land, water and wildlife."
  • Overall, Americans seem to reject the idea that environmental and economic priorities are innately at odds. Seventy-nine percent of poll respondents say the U.S. can protect nature and have a strong economy at the same time.