Drought, Polluted Water Worries Americans, Says Gallup Poll

Drought, Polluted Water Worries Americans, Says Gallup Poll

With most of the country experiencing abnormally dry weather, and many states on the Eastern seaboard enduring what the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration categorizes as severe or extreme drought, discussion of the weather has changed from a way to pass the time to a topic with serious implications.

A March 4-7 Gallup poll finds nearly half (47%) of Americans saying their local area is experiencing a drought, while 52% say it is not. The vast majority of residents of the Eastern region of the United States, 81%, say they are experiencing a drought -- a much higher percentage than in any other part of the country. Just 27% of Midwestern residents say they are experiencing a drought, as do 41% of Americans living in the West and 42% of Southern residents.

With the onset of drought conditions, many public officials are likely to call for proposals aimed at water conservation, or have done so already. Given a choice, however, the majority of Americans (60%) believe that voluntary actions on the part of citizens and businesses are sufficient to deal with the problems of drought. Only 37% say that federal and state governments must pass new laws to limit water use by consumers and businesses.

Responses to this question vary significantly by region, age, and political affiliation. Probably because they are experiencing such severe drought conditions, 44% of Easterners believe new laws (not just voluntary actions) are required, compared to 34% of residents of all other parts of the country. By a 50% to 33% margin, Americans aged 18-29 are more likely than Americans aged 30 and older to believe new laws are needed. Democrats (43%) and political independents (41%) are more likely to favor new laws to limit water consumption than are Republicans (28%).

Water Supply as an Environmental Issue

A separate question in the poll asked Americans how much they worry about specific environmental problems, and found concern about the supply of fresh water for household needs near the top of the list. Half of respondents (50%) said they worry "a great deal" about maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water, and another 28% worry "a fair amount." On the other hand, 17% said they worry "only a little" and 5% do not worry about the problem at all.

The percentage of Americans who worry "a great deal" about the fresh water supply (50%) tops worry about some other more high-profile environmental problems such as global warming (29%), the loss of tropical rain forests (38%) and damage to the earth's ozone layer (38%). It appears that public concern about environmental issues is closely related to a specific issue’s relevance to a person’s everyday life. The items most worried about include water pollution (57% for drinking water, 53% for rivers and lakes) and toxic waste contamination (53%).

To read the full findings, go to Gallup.com.