Western voters see past green-vs.-growth debate; do policymakers?

The Organ Mountains (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The Organ Mountains (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

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.
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  • 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.

9 thoughts on “Western voters see past green-vs.-growth debate; do policymakers?

  1. Abu Dhabi a long history of leading the world in technology initiatives.  Right up there with equal rights for women, gays and non Muslims.

  2. “Two-thirds perceive increasing the use of renewable energy as a job creator”

    Beacon Power – bankrupt
    Energy Conversion Devices – Bankrupt
    Uni-Solar (USO)   – Bankrupt
    Solar Integrated Technologies  – Bankrupt
    Solyndra  – Bankrupt

    Looks like the greatest employment is going to bankruptcy lawyers.

    Solar has a place ONLY for energy energy users which use ONLY during daylight.

    Schools actually fit this bill and they’ll be around long enough to recoup the investment.

    For users that use during night and day, solar does not make sense because the load must be
    duplicated by coal during nighttime making solar a huge waste in that case. 

  3. Hemingway,

    Before you begin to think that much of our natual resources are given away, I suggest you take the time to review results of recent oil and gas sales from the NM State Land Office.  It is amazing to see how much money is being raised by the SLO for the beneficiaries of the SLO Lands.  Dr. Ray Powell a Democrat is current State land Commissioner and I beleive  somewhat progressive in his political leaning.  I think SLO is a relatively good manager of the land trust. So Hemingway, there can be a balance between development of the resources and and their management.  I just wish we could do tow things would happen.  Stop overgrazing, and start managing the forests better to prevent overgrowth.  What do you think of those ideas Hemingway?

  4. President Teddy Roosevelt would go after the anti-wilderness politicians and unscrupulous businessmen with a big stick. As he correctly said: “Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the ‘the game belongs to the people.’ So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”
    He would denounce the policies of such Congressmen as Mr. Steve Pearce,who is on a rampage with a small group  of Western Caucus Congressmen. They are pushing for bills to eliminate public lands and wild places. Their  hope is to turn over these pristine wilderness areas to private land speculators and oil and gas political contributors. They falsely say this will create jobs. This legislation is simply a great outdoors giveaway. This  distorted and warped political stance is completely contrary to that of Teddy Roosevelt and such groups as Republicans for Environmental Protection. Most Americans want a balanced approach to conservation as heralded by President Roosevelt. Truly today’s Republicans such as Mr. Pearce are really lost in the wilderness and do not represent the true ideals of the historical Republican Party. 
    This is an excellent article.

  5. How many westerners agree with the approach that all public lands, not just national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas should be off limits to any kind of development (under any circumstance)? 

    Most people I talk to are very unaware of the issues in any detail.  Easy enough to ask/answer a poll question, not so easy to keep up with the agendas and spin.

  6. Lori and David,

    Could someone on the green side  provide a number of extractive industry projects on public lands that you think the environmentalist’s would support? 

    Do any environmentalists on this board  think there is any support any extractive industries?  There are surely some operators in oil and gas extraction or mining  that have best managment practices of natural resources somewhere/  Who might they be. 

    Do the 2/3 of of those supporting renewables as job creators understand the economics of renewables?  Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t like wind, solar or bio-fuels.. But energy must be reliable and redundant and priced right and renewables are not there yet so we need to have redundant  systems.  I wonder if those 2/3 of voters are willing to pay the extra cost. 

  7. I always think it amusing how environmentalists manipulate polls to prove their preconceived notions.  We all know polls like this are totally unreliable, as the way these complex and nuanced questions are asked and the wording steers the ignorant populace to the answer the pollsters want to show.  Bipartisan has nothing to do with it when environmentalists are involved. And as with all these very technical and complicated issues, the devil is always in details the public at large has no clue about.  Unless you are involved in business closely, the typical citizen has no clue about how regulations effect jobs, the economy, etc., they are just ignorant, but of course they pretend to be experts on the wild.  But if you like polls, how about a specific question, asked last year in Montana:

    “When asked if they would support enactment of state laws to restrict environmental regulations to encourage more oil, gas, coal and precious mineral development, 53 percent said they would, while 37 percent said they opposed such efforts. Ten percent were undecided.”