Sep 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Support for creating a national fund to pay pollution-related health care costs
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.

  • Notably, most Americans aren't aware of the disparities: 57% of all respondents and 42% of Black respondents said all Americans suffer the consequences of pollution and environmental contamination equally regardless of skin color or wealth.
  • The poll was conducted for an Axios deep dive on environmental manifestations of systemic racism, to be released this afternoon as part of our "Hard Truths" series.

More than seven in 10 people of color and half of white respondents said they would support the creation of a national fund to pay health care costs for people suffering from pollution-related illnesses.

  • But there's no mandate across any racial or ethnic group to raise most people's income taxes to pay for better air and water quality, or to raise gasoline taxes to expand renewable energy or electric vehicles.
  • Seven in 10 Americans — including 65% of white respondents — said they do favor raising taxes on corporations or the very wealthy to improve the environment.

By the numbers: 70% of white respondents described the air quality in their neighborhoods as almost always good or mostly good.

  • That compares with 48% for Black respondents, 44% for Hispanic respondents and 50% of Asian American respondents.
  • There were comparable gaps across the other measures: 70% of white respondents, 61% of Asian American respondents, and just 48% of Hispanic respondents and 43% of Black respondents said their tap water quality is good.
  • 11% of Black respondents said they didn't know what their water quality was, the highest percentage of all groups.

Between the lines: To see how location overlapped with race and ethnicity, Ipsos pollster and senior vice president Chris Jackson also sliced the data to looked only at respondents living in urban areas.

  • He found that whites who live in urban areas are still 15-20 percentage points more likely than people of color to experience good environmental conditions in their communities.
  • The data showed respondents' education makes a difference in where they live but, again, not to the exclusion of race. Three-fourths of white respondents with bachelor's degrees or higher said they have good air quality in their communities, compared with just six in 10 Black or Hispanic respondents with bachelor's degrees or higher.
  • Disparities were even more pronounced for less educated respondents. Two-thirds of white Americans with a high-school education reported good quality in their neighborhoods — compared with 46% of Black high school graduates and 35% of Hispanic high school graduates.

What they're saying: "The data just reinforces the tale of two Americas," said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

  • "Race is the primary cleavage in American society, whether you look at political attitudes, educational outcomes or even environmental outcomes."
  • "It's this subtle inequality: What's the cumulative effect of kids playing along the back of a highway instead of a highly greened place? A lot of the urban planning in the '40s, '50s and '60s was exactly to keep African Americans out. So you just wonder, how much are Black Americans exposed to these things because it was engineered that way?"

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos poll was conducted Sept. 9-15, 2021, by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 2,184 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.
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