Survey: Voters worried about natural resources

Posted 2/9/21

Voters in western states say they’re worried about the future of natural resources by a 2:1 margin, according to a poll across eight Rocky Mountain states. Even in Wyoming — perhaps the …

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Survey: Voters worried about natural resources


Voters in western states say they’re worried about the future of natural resources by a 2:1 margin, according to a poll across eight Rocky Mountain states. Even in Wyoming — perhaps the most conservative state in the annual State of the Rockies poll — the sentiment is in the majority.

The importance of the Cowboy State’s energy extraction industry was clear in responses, but the trend is changing. Among more than 400 Wyoming voters who were surveyed, 47% said they would rather Congress emphasize the protection of clean water, air quality and wildlife habitat plus opportunities to recreate on public lands, while 45% said it was more important to produce more domestic energy by maximizing the amount of public lands available for responsible oil and gas drilling and mining.

Wyoming was the only state in the poll where a majority of voters oppose the idea of gradually transitioning to having 100% of their energy produced from clean, renewable sources like solar, wind and hydropower over the next 10 to 15 years. However, support of renewable energy has been growing in the annual poll. Voters said sources of energy in the state with the most potential to help its economy are natural gas and wind power, although there is still strong support for oil and coal. 

“We have a majority support even in Wyoming, which, given the prevalence of fossil fuel industry, they tend to view many of the survey questions differently than the other states,” said Dave Metz. He’s the president of FM3 Research, a national-level Democratic polling firm, that helped with the poll.

The bipartisan survey, in its 11th year, polled 3,842 registered voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Voters responded to questions concerning conservation, public lands, energy, water, wildlife, wildfire and other pressing challenges in the Mountain West.

The annual poll has found growing concern among voters on topics like climate change (an increase of 27% in the past decade), habitat for fish and wildlife (an increase of 17%) and pollution of rivers, lakes and streams (an increase of 13%).

“If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens, director of the project and an assistant professor at Colorado College, which conducts the survey.

One reason for the increasing amount of concern for natural resources is the changing demographics of the poll, said Lori Weigel. She’s director of New Bridge Strategy, which conducts research on behalf of dozens of Republican candidates from the local level to the presidential race and also helped with the State of the Rockies survey.

“Younger voters in the west were the most pessimistic,” Weigel said. “70% of those voters under the age of 35 indicated that when they looked ahead to the future of nature, they were more worried.” 

Wyomingites consistently responded to questions in the most conservative manner, but still expressed support of conservation efforts — including investing in conservation measures, restoring protections for national monuments and public lands and finding money to protect state land, water and wildlife, despite budget shortfalls.

Wyoming voters reported using public lands the most, with 91% of Cowboy State respondents saying they have visited federal public lands such as national parks, national forests, national monuments and national wildlife refuges. About half say they will visit national parks and public land more often as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. At the same time, a third of Wyoming voters said national parks and public lands are too crowded. 

Hiking, camping, hunting and fishing are the top three outdoor recreation sports, according to the poll. Wildlife viewing and boating finished out the top five most popular activities. More than 60% of respondents said they hunt and fish in the state.

One of the top issues concerning western voters is wildfires, with more than 70% of voters saying the issue is a growing problem. In Wyoming, 68% of voters said the problem has grown in the past decade, blaming climate change (37%), a lack of resources in public agencies to properly manage forests (34%) and less logging activity (29%).

Wyoming voters overwhelmingly support more efforts to remove overgrown brush and selected or dead trees on public lands (94%). Increasing the use of controlled burns to safely reduce the amount of fuel for fires was also a popular solution (91%).

Wyoming is one of three states, including Colorado and Montana, with increasing opposition to restoring protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; about one in five voters strongly oppose the efforts. All three of Wyoming’s members of Congress are seeking to “modernize” the act, with public sentiment swayed by recent failed efforts to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The majority of those responding to the poll had lived in Wyoming for more than 16 years (74%), with less than 10% living in the state for less than five years; 27% were native to the state. Among respondents in Wyoming, 67% identified themselves as Republican voters, 21% Democrat and 12% Independent. A total of 75% considered themselves to be conservationists.