If you had to choose between feeding either your son or your daughter, which one would you pick? How about if you had to decide between having gas in your car's fuel tank or tires on your car's wheels? What if you could only have indoor plumbing or electricity, which one would you choose? Tough questions, right? Not only are they tough (and ridiculous), they also present you with false choices.
According to the most recent Gallup survey which looked for "answers" to one of the lamest polling questions of all time, Americans are more likely to say economic growth should take precedence over environmental protection when the two objectives conflict (53%) than to say the reverse (38%). The release of the survey results comes on the heels of another Gallup poll showing Americans' declining concern for the environment.
According to Gallup, just under half of Democrats now believe "protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth." The results show the lowest percentage of Democrats on record favoring the environment on this question. And at 22%, the percentage of Republicans favoring the environment also marks a new low.
The fundamental problem with this survey question as it has been framed by Gallup and other prominent pollsters for the last thirty to forty years is that it presents a false choice between protecting the environment and strengthening the economy. Can't there be both?
Before I go off too harshly on Gallup, it should also be noted that one of the most extensive semi-annual surveys of public opinion, the National Election Study, asked a similar series of questions for years, but as far as I can determine it no longer does.
The whole notion that the environment and the economy cannot both thrive is hardly news. As President Bill Clinton said back in 1992, "You don't have to sacrifice environmental protection to get economic growth. The choice between jobs and environment is a false one: we can have both."
At the core of much of the progressive environmental policy agenda is the idea that environmental protection and economic stability are inextricably linked.
But as long as zero-sum survey questions with false dichotomies like this one are asked of people there will always be winners and losers. And because economy usually trumps all else, the environment will usually be portrayed as the "loser." When in actuality, the real loser is the American public. A public who is led to believe they have to make a choice between the two.
I'm looking forward to the day when Gallup or any other polling organization calls me with this question. Although I already feel bad for the $8/hr. tele-pollster that's going to have to put up with my rants.