Feb 14, 2024 - Climate

Environmental issues are key for 2024 election in the West, poll shows

Data: Conservation in the West poll 2024; Note: MOE +/- 3.5%; Chart: John Frank/Axios

Two-thirds of Western voters are worried about the future of the environment, and an overwhelming majority say the issue is important in deciding which candidates to support in this year's election, a new poll shows.

Why it matters: The findings show concerns about public lands, water supplies, wildlife and pollution are reaching new highs in the 14th annual Conservation in the West poll released Wednesday.

Of note: The poll surveyed voters in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Montana.

State of play: The bloc of environmentally minded voters increased to 85%, up from 75% in 2016, and represented a majority in each major political party and among independents.

  • About nine in 10 voters in all eight Western states polled participated in outdoor recreation activities in the last year and a clear majority in each opposed removing protections for existing public lands, the survey found.

What they're saying: "This year we've seen the widest margin in favor of conservation," pollster Dave Metz of FM3 Research said. It's remarkable, he said, because it comes at a time when economic pressure against conservation is the "highest it's been in years."

The big picture: The elevated concerns about the future of the outdoors reflect other polling showing broad pessimism in America this presidential election year.

  • The top concern among Western voters out of 18 areas mentioned is the rising cost of living, followed by low water levels in rivers and inadequate water supply, and protection of wildlife.
  • 53% are worried about climate change, an increase of 4 percentage points from a year ago.

The intrigue: In looking for potential solutions, the survey found 80% or more support requiring oil and gas companies to pay for clean-up and land restoration costs after drilling, limiting light pollution on public lands, the creation of new national parks and monuments and building wildlife crossings at major highways.

Yes, but: The poll questions didn't capture the potential downsides of the proposals, which puts their actual level of support in doubt.

Of note: The poll was conducted Jan. 4-21 in English and Spanish by a bipartisan team of pollsters for the State of the Rockies project. The margin of error for most questions is plus-or-minus 2.4 percentage points and 4.9 points for individual state results.

Zoom in: The top concerns shift by state, the poll found.

In Colorado, the rising cost of living and concern about too many people moving to the state topped all of the other Western states polled.

  • 60% are also worried about the loss of natural areas, well above the average.

In Arizona, water-related concerns and the rising cost of living topped the list of most serious problems.

  • The state's voters also expressed the most worry about pollution and hazardous waste impacts on the environment.

In Utah, air pollution and smog ranked as more of a concern than any other Western state.

  • The increasing costs of living in the state and inadequate water supply also top voters' minds.
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