When pollsters ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country, the environment is rarely mentioned. But this time-honored polling question masks the public's true concern about environmental issues, according to Stanford University researchers.
"For years, the wording used in traditional surveys has systematically underestimated the priority that the public has placed on global warming and the environment," said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of political science at Stanford. "To fully understand public concern about these issues, traditional surveys should be asking a different question."
In a recent study, Krosnick and his colleagues focused on what public opinion experts call the "most important problem" (MIP) question. Developed by pollster George Gallup in the 1930s, the MIP question has become a staple of many national surveys.
As an example, the researchers cited the following question from a September 2009 New York Times/CBS News Poll: "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?"
In that poll, only 1 percent of respondents mentioned the environment, while 41 percent said the economy or jobs. "In prior surveys going back to 2007, the percentage of those who mentioned environmental issues never rose above 3 percent," Krosnick said. "These results seem to suggest that few if any Americans place top priority on the government dealing with global warming or the environment."
But the Stanford study revealed that when the question was reframed in terms of the most serious problem facing the planet if left unchecked, the environment and global warming rose to the top. "How a question is phrased can significantly change the results," said Krosnick, a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.
For the Stanford study, the research team analyzed the results of two national surveys. Th
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|