Optical illusions are said to “trick the eye.” There are numerous examples that seem to “hide” one image within another – depending on which image the eye focuses, the other may not seem evident. But once we pause, adjust and view the picture fully, it changes our perspective permanently: We can’t help but see both images – both present and inextricably linked together.
The 2012 Colorado College Conservation in the West poll shows us that when Western voters look at the public lands that surround them, they see the full picture: a vital resource for their quality of life, while at the same time an engine for their local economy.
To hear some pundits and politicians describe it, voters must have tunnel vision instead: They must view their land, water and wildlife as either a source of jobs or as the foundation of a healthy environment – and never both. Yet this new data demonstrate that Westerners across the political spectrum say the old way of looking at the picture – trying to pit the economy against the environment – just doesn’t match their perspective.
Four in five voters across six inner West states polled – Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – believe we can “protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other.” Only 19 percent say that these two goals are even “sometimes” in conflict, and that we therefore must choose one over the other. The strong rejection of this false choice is evident in every state, with Latinos and Anglos, and among Republicans, Democrats and swing voters.
Whichever aspect of their natural surroundings they look at, Western voters continue to see these dual benefits for their economy and their way of life:
- Westerners overwhelmingly agree that national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of their state’s economy.
- Two-thirds perceive increasing the use of renewable energy as a job creator. Even voters with significant traditional energy sectors such as Wyoming and Montana say more renewable energy means more – not fewer – jobs.
- By a two-to-one margin, Western voters perceive environmental laws and regulations as “important safeguards” to protect health, property-owners and taxpayers, rather than “burdensome regulations” that cost jobs and hurt business in their state.
In fact, voters in these states actually say that environment regulations not only protect health, quality of life, and the natural beauty of their state, but are more likely to have a positive impact than a negative impact on local jobs. No wonder then that they reject
(by a two-to-one margin) the assertion that cutting back environmental regulation is one of the best ways to create jobs in their state.
The majority of Westerners have moved past a myopic view that places all policies into a pro-economy or pro-environment box. They see past the optical illusion. Policymakers, elected officials and candidates ought not to lose sight of this bigger picture as well.
The 2012 Colorado College Conservation in the West Survey was conducted by the bipartisan research team of Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D). The poll surveyed 2,400 registered voters in six western states (AZ, CO, NM, UT, WY, MT) January 2 through 5 & 7, 2012, and yields a margin of error of +- 2.0 percent regionally and +-4.9% statewide. The full survey results and analysis is available on the Colorado College website by clicking here.