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Public Opinion and the Introduction of Congr essional Environmental Legislation, 1973-2002 by Hugh Eugene Jarvis A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts Department of Sociology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co-Major Professor: Laurel Graham, Ph.D. Co-Major Professor: Michael Lynch, Ph.D. Committee Member: David Stamps, Ph.D. Date of Approval: October 15, 2008 Keywords: Environmental Concern, Democr acy, Environmental Law, Congressional Representation, Congressional Action Copyright 2008, Hugh Eugene Jarvis
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Research Questions 1 Chapter 2: A Review of the Literature 4 Public Opinion 4 Effect of Public Opinion/Democracy Theory 5 Critical Theorys Analysis of Public Opinion 8 Interest Group Theory 11 Congressional Action 13 Environmental Concern 14 Chapter 3: Methodology 16 Chapter 4: Findings 21 Race 22 Class 23 Chapter 5: Discussion 27 Chapter 6: Research Limita tions and Implications 33 Bibliography 36 Appendices 39 Appendix 1: Table 1 39 Appendix 2: Table 2 41
ii List of Tables Table 1 GSS, Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Environmental Policy; Correlations Between Percent Who Believe Too Little is Spent on Environmental Protection and Nu mber of Environmental Bills Proposed in 10 Areas 39 Table 2 GSS, Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Environmental Policy; Correlation Between Percent W ho Believe About the Right Amount is Spent on Environmental Protec tion and Number of Environmental Proposed in 10 Areas 41
iii Public Opinion And The Introduction Of Congressional Environmental Legislation, 1973-2002 Gene Jarvis ABSTRACT This study examines the relationshi p between public op inion about the environment and the introduction of congression al legislation on environmental issues. Using public opinion data gathered by the Gene ral Social Survey from 1977 to 2002, this work examines correlations between how th e public views the environment in each and the number of bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate addressing environmental issues. The findings indicate th at there is a correlation betw een overall concern felt in the public and congressional acti on on certain aspects of envi ronmental protection. The results also highlight the potentially dist urbing finding that the race and economic class of a respondent play a role in the level of correlation between respondents concern for the environment and congressional action on environmental issues.
1 Chapter 1 Introduction When U.S. government officials act, they are often influenced by a variety of factors and interests. These influences may come from the ideas and beliefs of politicians themselves, be exerted by the public whom th ese officials represent, or be influences from lobbyists, campaign contributors, government al agencies, or other invested parties. In a democratic government, elected government officials are expected to legislate in a manner that reflects the views of the citizen s who elect them and whom they arguably serve. But how reflexive is governmental polic y in relation to the vi ews of the citizens it serves? To examine this connection, this work explores the overlap of public opinion and legislative action in one ar ea: environmental law and re gulation by the United States Congress. Exploring environmental issues and congressional action is also of particular interest given the importance of this legislati on to business. Envir onmental issues are one area of American politics where individual citize ns and corporations are nearly always at odds, so this work may also offer insight to determine if Congress is serving the publics interest or if corporations are able to limit congressional action even in the face of increased public support fo r environmental protection. Research Questions This study seeks to determine whether a ri se in public concer n for environmental issues correlates with the rate of initial proposal of environmen tal legislation in Congress. This will be accomplished by using the General Social Survey (GSS), a well-established and respected national survey from the Univer sity of Chicago, to measure public concern
2 and the number of environmental laws passe d along with the number of environmental issues introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives and U. S. Senate to measure legislative action. The number of bills introduced was found by searching the database of congressional action provided by the U.S. Governmental Printing Office (www.gpo.gov). The passage of environmental laws was not used as a measure of congressional action because of the relatively few numbers of laws passed each year that focus on the environment. The failure of such laws to pass could be attributed to any number of factors including; partisan politics, number of bills introduced in a year, or congressional focus on other issues. Despite the low numb er of laws passed by Congress regarding environmental issues, Congress does take some action in the form of the introduction of bills designed to protect various aspects of th e environment. It is on congressional action in the form of the introduction of th ese bills that this study will focus. Further, this work will examine how the opinions about environmental issues of various self-identified racial groups and self-i dentified social classe s are correlated with the proposal of congressional legislation. If the results of this study show that the opinions of Americans, or certain groups of Americans, are not posit ively correlated with congressional action, it coul d point to a disturbing and anti-democratic trend in governance. In addition, if the results of this study show that the opinions of certain Americans have a greater correlation with congressional action, it could point to a disturbing bias in how the public is repres ented in our democracy, with some groups being heard (or reflecting congres sional action) more than ot hers. Should this study show that the opinions of all Americans positively correlate with actions taken by Congress,
3 Americans will have reason to believe that th e democratic process is working well, at least in terms of environmental legislation.
4 Chapter 2 A Review of the Literature Public Opinion In order to discuss the role of public opinion in American politics, it is important to first discuss how this study defines and uses public opinion. Fo r the purpose of this study, public opinion is measured using the Gene ral Social Survey. While public opinion research is common in academe as well as the government and private spheres, what has constituted public opinion ha s been interpreted differentl y. Herbst and Carey offer two images of how public opinion was generated before the mass media age. Susan Herbst (1991) describes the formation of public opin ion in the salons and coffeehouses of the 18th century stating, nea rly all participants were involve d in a reciprocal communication process where they spoke, listened, and spoke again. There was no final word, no final opinion expressed (p. 233). As Carey (1995) describes, public opinion in the 19th century referred to the opini on developed by the public, in public places. People would gather together and discuss events of the time, developing a common understanding of an issues if not an agreed upon opinion of what should be done in response to an issue. Given our current mass mediated culture such scenes would be unusual today, and reflecting the change in culture, p ublic opinion has come to be understood differently. In the 20th and 21st century, public opinion has come to refer to a statistical average of many individual opinions. Public op inion is most often reported in the media as the results of large-scale polling. Bourdi eu (1979) stated that this form of public expression, where pollsters select the que stions and possible responses for public
5 discourse, is a unique characte ristic of modernity. Other researchers examining the idea of public opinion in modernity have pointed out that citizens a nd public life have transformed through factors such as a divi sion of interest, with drawal from civic engagement, and a distrust of the media, in to a populace that, according to Carey (1992), have less influence on policy than in previous generations. If this is the case, and citizens opinion does not directly affect government, the results of this study should show a Congress that acts relatively inde pendently of expressed public opinion. Others counter the argument of redu ced citizen influence saying that public opinion has been shown to have an effect on political action, some going so far as to say it is a one-to-one effect, meaning a strong feeling in the public is met by meaningful congressional action on a part icular issue (Erikson, MacK uen and Stimson 2002; Erikson, Wright and McIver 1993). Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson (2002) found that when public opinion demanded more fiscal accountabi lity from elected officials and politicians, Republicans responded with the GOPs contra ct with America(Erikson, Wright, and McIver, 1993). Following this line of academic research, this study focuses on the correlation between concern felt in the public as calculated by the GSS national survey and congressional action conceptualized as th e number of bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Effect of Public Opinion/Democracy Theory With the understanding of public opinion de tailed above, it is n ecessary to address the possible importance of the publics views of an issue. If a positive correlation can be established showing when public concern for the environment increases, Congress passes or considers more environmentally positive legislation, this supports the idea that the
6 public and their elected represen tatives are, at least to some extent, concentrating on the same issues. A negative correlation would be found if, when public concern for the environment increases, congressional action do es not increase. This could show that members of Congress are either unaware of public support for more congressional action or are unconcerned with public sentiment in the area of environmental protection. The effects of public opinion on vari ous issues have been studied in other academic research utilizing democracy theory. Previous research debates the effect of public opinion on congressional action. Classic democratic theory holds that central to an elected government is the idea that elected officials represent th eir constituency by introduci ng and supporting legislation on issues the public is concerne d about. In support of this theory, some researchers have found a strong positive correlation between the vi ews of the public and the actions of the government (Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson, 2002; Erikson, Wright, and McIver, 1993). These researchers have found that the government does lis ten to the publics concerns and acts accordingly. Others have disagreed; claiming the effect of public opinion is minimal on congressional action in most instances (Domhoff, 1998; 2002; Manza and Cook, 2002 as cited in Burstein, 2006). If the results of this study s how a disconnect between public opinion and congressional action in relation to environmental issues, it will lend credence to these critics of classic democratic theo ry. Other researchers have focused on who specifically holds political power. Deleon and Naff (2004) found that racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged have less political influence than whites and upper class Americans. Other rese archers point out th at issues of sample selection and
7 sampling bias by researchers conducting the polls lead to misleading results making it difficult for elected officials to understand how the public they re present feel about certain issues (Page, 2002; Burstein, 2006). Central aspects of democr acy, according to democrat ic theory, include broad participation by the public in the democratic process and free-flowing discussion of ideas in the public sphere (Herbst, 1991). Herbst challenges both these fundamental ideas of democratic theory when discussing the public opinion poll. She points out that public opinion polls such as the General Social Survey lack broad participation (Herbst, 1991). Due to the use of statistical tools, pollsters can extrapolate the opi nion of the nation from a random sample of the population, therefore most Americans are not asked about or forced to reflect on their opinions by pollsters. Herbst also points out that these surveys do not allow for the free-flowing discussion of ideas. The survey limits the questions the respondents are asked and the responses they can give, therefore perhaps revealing more about researchers, as opposed to citizens. Herbst analyses these limitations using Webers theory of rationalization, pointing ou t that polls are orga nized in a top-down manner by the researchers, therefore encourag ing a more structured opinion expression than would be ideal in determining the true feelings of the public. Weber felt that rationalization was leading to more structured forms of expression. In the case of public opinion, more structure determining how th e public views an issue leads to less opportunity for people to express th eir true feelings on a topic. It is beyond the scope of this study to determine how public opinion su rveys themselves affect the formation of public opinion as described by Herbst (1991), rather this work will, like previous
8 academic research, attempt to de termine if the perceived general will of the people is reflected in the actions of elected officials. In addition to studies regarding the ge neral correlation of public opinion and government action, some studies have charte d the correlation for particular issues. Several researchers have found that the actions of Congress are in dir ect relation to public opinion in the area of civil rights (Brustein and Monaghan, 1985; Carmines and Stimson, 1989; and Weissberg, 1978) and wo mens rights (Costain and Majstorovic, 1994). Using regression and other advanced statistical t echniques academic study on these issues has supported that the change in public opinion le d to congressional action. This work adds to public opinion research following in the vein of past research on public opinion in U.S. democracy by examining if congressional action is correlated with public concern on the issue of environmental protection. If envir onmental protection is si milar to the issues described above, a shift in public opinion shoul d be positively correla ted with action from public officials. Critical Theorys Analysis of Public Opinion Where democratic theory examines the link between public opinion and legislative action, critical theory questions the meaning of the expression personal opinion in a mass society. While there has b een a substantial amount of social research done using public opinion data, there ar e many social theorists who question the independent nature of public opinion. Those researchers feel it is impossible for the public to form an objective opinion in m odern society (Swingewood, 2000). Critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1972) suggest that we live in a mass society in which public opinion is influenced on a societal level through mass media and
9 the powerful elite, therefore, public opinion is entirely reflective of the elements of the mass society to which individuals are exposed. In this society the autonomous individual disappears and opinion becomes uniform (Swingewood, 2000). Critical theorists argue that the mass medi a and powerful elite give the public the information they want them to have. For example, the results of opinion polls are made public when the polls show an i ssue in the light desired for in terested parties. If a poll showed that a large number of people feel that televised ne ws broadcasts are biased, it would be unlikely that the results of that survey would be discussed on televised news broadcasts. Similarly, many polls are only conducted when someone in a position of power and resources commissions the researc h. Before groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace commissioned studies in an atte mpt to raise awareness on environmental issues, very little work was done on the envir onment. Researchers looking for a certain outcome could also conduct a poll with questions designed to illicit desired responses. This in turn increases public support for the issues important to those already in a position of power (Lewis, 2001). It is also possible that mass media influences public opinion as a result of coveri ng congressional issues. As C ongress takes on an issue, the news media covers the congressi onal action, and that coverage affects the way an issue is viewed by the public. In this scenario, it is the action taken by the Congress that affects public opinion instead of public opinion aff ecting the actions of congress. Also a possibility is that the media highlights an issue and then C ongress and the public each get interested in it in time. C. Wright Mills (1956) illustrated that most Americans are coerced into believing they have some level of power in modern soci ety, but in reality it is the power elite that
10 are in control. He stated, "Most Ameri cans still believed the ebb and flow of public opinion guided political affairs. . But now we must recognize this description as a set of images out of a fairy tale. . They are not ad equate even as an a pproximate model of how the American system of power works (1956, p. 300). Mills (1959) also warns against what he refers to as abstracted empiricism , empirical work that neglects the social context surrounding it. From Mills perspe ctive public opinion surveys ask simple, scripted questions at one point in time gi ving the respondents little time to think about their answers. Research subjec ts are often asked to give an answer from a short list of possible choices with no chance to elaborate on their feelings. Even if a study has been well-designed and conducted, the results of the study are often then presented by the mass media in a simplified form that does not necessarily represent the complexity of the issue being studied. For instance, a survey study on a complex issue such as abortion could be presented on a news broadcast as simply as a new study finds a majority of Americans are opposed to abortion. What would likely be missing from the report is information regarding such factors as: spec ific questions asked, answers provided, time allowed to take survey, whether the survey wa s taken privately or with a pollster, and the sample used. The fact that the results of survey research can be influenced by so many aspects of the studys design is another aspect of this type of research that critical theorists critique. Critical theory questions if the polls ar e measuring what they intend to measure and if the opinions expressed are accurate reflections of the values of the respondents. Despite these concerns voiced by academic s, public opinion polling is widely used by politicians, especially in campaign years. Th erefore, it stands to reason that however
11 accurate opinion polls are, politic ians view them as valuable tools; and as such, using such a poll in this study should be an effectiv e way to determine if a correlation exists between expressed public concern and congressi onal action even if it can not be claimed that there is a causal relationship. Interest Group Theory Where critical theory questions the validity of the public opinion polls, interest group theory dismisses the idea that Congress is truly concerned with the feelings of the public. Other researchers (see Burstein, 2006) have suggested that public opinion has a more substantial effect on congressional le gislation regarding high profile issues especially important to the public while issues of low visib ility are more likely to be influenced by lobbyists or campaign contribu tions made by individua ls or corporations with a stake in the outcome (Drope and Hansen, 2004; Morton and Cameron, 1992; Wright, 1990). The high profile issues are th ings that public hears a lot about, such as gay marriage or illegal immigration, but these is sues may not be as im portant to the daily lives of most Americans as th e low visibility issues, such as health care or corporate corruption on which public opinion has little e ffect. It is not to say that high profile issues are completely unimportant or lower profile issues go comp letely unnoticed, but interest group theorists argue many of the issues that have a large a ffect on peoples lives are affected only minimally by public opinion. These researchers find that politicians may placate their constituents on some issues. However, when lobbyists or campaign contributors have a large stake in the outco me, they have much more influence over elected representatives than voters (Dr ope and Hansen, 2004; Morton and Cameron, 1992; Wright, 1990).
12 A foremost researcher in interest group theory is William Domhoff. Domhoff has written several articles and books arguing that the effect of public opinion on governmental action is minimal (1967, 1983). Domhoff found that po litical action is determined by those he refers to as incom e producers like large co rporations and banks rather than individual citizens or even citizens groups. He states that the power elite are the controllers of governmental agenda (1967, 1990). If Domho ff is correct, results of this study could show that public opinion has little effect on congr essional action. If the results of this study show that the upper class respondents have more effect on congressional action, it could illustrate the influence the power elite have in our democracy. A lack of correlation would show that public opinion is being ignored or contradicted in congressional ac tion, and interest group theory could be an explanation of why. While there are no hard and fast rules to determine if an issue is high or low profile, environmental issues have histori cally only received large amounts of media attention in the wake of environmental disast ers. In recent years that trend has been changing with more coverage of environmental issues and more people becoming concerned about the environment, but th is study focuses on the years from 1973 2002 before the environment became a higher profile issue. It would be nave to thin k that both public opinio n and congressional action are not affected by many influences not studied in this work. Could a media event such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill simultaneously spur congressional action and inflame public opinion? Yes. A correlation be tween these two vari ables cannot be interpreted to mean that one variable affected or caused the othe r. The correlation may be a spurious one,
13 shaped entirely by a third variable such as media coverage. While outside variables cannot be controlled for, thei r existence does not invalidate th e results of studies such as this one. As stated above, this work only seeks to determine if public opinion and congressional action are corre lated. While unexamined fact ors may affect both public opinion and congressional action, th e results of this study are va luable to social research in that it is important to know if public opinion and congressional action are correlated regardless of why they might be correlated, a nd if they are correlated, how strong is the correlation. Congressional Action All bills introduced in Congress must go through several steps before they become law. A bill must be drafted and s ponsored by a senator or representative, be introduced, go to the appropriate committee or subcommittee to be reported and released to the floor for a full debate. Because the sa me bill might be sent to committee more than once, or a bill may never make it to the fl oor for a full debate, it is on the initial introduction of bills that this work will focus. Each bill is introduced once in the House and once in the Senate, but not all bills are in troduced in both the House and Senate. If a bill is introduced in both, that shows that it has received more attention, and therefore, for the purposes of this study each introduction will be counted. Environmental Concern While previous research on the effects of public opinion on environmental policy has been lacking, there have been several st udies done on the demographic characteristics of those who are environmentally concer ned. In 1993 the GSS contained a special
14 section of questions that allowed research ers to draw conclusions about respondents views of the environment. Many studies have found that race plays a role in a persons view of the environment, finding that minorities are much less sympathetic to environmental concerns than are whites (Taylor, 1989; Ke llert, 1984; Mitchell, 1980). Other research has pointed out that this may only appear to be the case becau se of a narrow definition of the environment. When ma ny Americans think of the environment, they think of shrinking forests containing endangered species or melti ng polar ice caps. Many minorities in this country face much different environmental issues in their daily lives. There has been a great deal of academic wo rk establishing that hazardous waste sites, garbage dumps, and many other types of toxi c dangers are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods (Bullard & Wright, 1986; Bo er et al., 1997; Zimmerman, 1993). Because of this proxim ity to environmental hazards, the phrase environmental protection could hold very different meanings for minority respondents than their white counterparts. Given the results of this pr evious research, this study seeks to determine how the opinions of racial minorities and economi cally disadvantaged people correlate with congressional action on various as pects of environmental protecti on. If the results of this study show no correlation between th ese groups and congressional action on environmental problems, it could support th e theorists who argue that these groups voices are being ignored. On the other ha nd, if the findings show a correlation between these peoples opinions and specific aspects of environmental protecti on that affect them
15 more directly, it could be an indication of el ected officials addressing issues that minority groups and the economically disadvantaged face in their everyday lives. The issue of class in rela tion to environmental con cern has received much less attention than race in academic research. Uyeki and Holland (2000) using the result of the 1993 GSS found that lower class indivi duals were more likely to hold proenvironment attitudes than their upper class counterparts. However, Zhang, Anwar, Jinyang, and Neil (2007) found that people who earned more than $75,000 per year were more likely to take pro-environmental act ions. This study will focus less on how concerned one class of respondents is in rela tion to other classes, and more on how an increase in concern in each class in correla ted with congressional action in the form of the introduction of bills on pr otecting the environment.
16 Chapter 3 Methodology For this work the General Social Survey (GSS) was used to measure public attitudes toward the environment. The G SS has been conducted across the nation annually from 1973 to 1994 and every two years si nce 1994. It is a national survey out of the University of Chicago that is conduc ted via phone, lasts approximately 90 minutes, covers a wide range of issues, and collects demographic information from participants. Because of its broad focus and collection of demographic information, it allows for correlation between opinion and demographic char acteristics. It is widely used both privately and academically in many fields, especi ally the social scien ces. This research uses 1973 to 2002 survey data, a to tal of 25 different surveys. Each GSS survey between 1973 and 2002 has asked Americans how they felt about national spending on improving and prot ecting the environment. Interviewers asked respondents the following question: We are faced with many problems in the country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. Im going to name some of these problems, and for each one Id like you to tell me whether you think were spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Among the problems named by the interviewer, Improving and protecting the environment was the second issue to whic h participants were asked to respond. Previous research (Hanley Schlapfe r and Spurgeon, 2003) has shown that a persons willingness to spend money is a mu ch stronger indicator of preference or
17 support for an issue than simply asking if th ey support an issue. Respondents are more likely to say they support and issue if there is no financial obligation. If they are asked if they are willing to spend money on an issue, that shows a willingness to sacrifice in order to make gains in an area. The willingness to spend money shows a commitment to an issue. Therefore, a persons feelings on sp ending too much, too little, or the right amount on environmental protection is an appropriate measure of general environmental concern felt by members U.S. society. It must be pointed out that it may be possible that using this question as a representation of minority opinion could lead to less than ideal data. It is possible that the specific environmental issues minority Americans and Americans of a low social class face are issues that w ould benefit less from more sp ending and benefit more from government intervention. If the largest e nvironmental issue faced by a respondent is a toxic waste dump in their ne ighborhood, it is possible that th e respondent might feel that more money would not help the situation, but governmental intervention might be more appropriate. However, there are many types of environmental issues faced by minority and lower class Americans that could be help ed by a financial investment made by the government, even on the issue described above. It seems likely that a respondent facing such an issue would understand that even governmental intervention requires a substantial financial investment on the part of the government, and the respondent would most likely answer that they feel more n eeds to be spent on protecting and improving the environment. Using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS), cro sstabulations were run with this data using the co lumn variable of year asked. This showed the percentage
18 of people that gave each po ssible response for each year the question was asked. The number of laws on any issues passed by Congres s in a given year is significant, and many of these laws have small items included that deal with certain as pects of environmental protection. However, legisla tion that contains major prot ection for the environment is rare. According to the Environmental Prot ection Agency, since the GSS began collecting data in 1973, there have been only twenty environmental laws passed by Congress that the EPA considers to be major environm ental protection laws, and from 1990 to the date of this work there have been no major environmental protection laws passed (http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/index.html). Due to the low number of laws passed each year, this work is examining the number of bills dealing with environmenta l issues introduced to both congressional bodies in a given year. In order to determ ine the number of bills debated each year, a search was conducted of the U.S. Governme nt Printing Office website (gpoaccess.gov) for each year between 1983 and 2002 for bills containing environmental key words. The database on this site allowed me to search all bills introduced in both the House and Senate for keywords. For each of the result s, the GPO provides the number of bills as well as a brief description of the bill with the search term highlighted. This allowed me to verify that the bill was in fact focusing on an environmental issue. For example, when the search term waste was entered, seve ral bills containing waste as a key word addressed issues such as governmental spendi ng waste or the wasting of manpower in the Department of Justice. Bills such as these were not included in this study. To find the broad environmental bills th e terms environmental protection and pollution were searched. To find bills re lating to narrower environmental issues, a
19 search was conducted for bills containing the fo llowing terms: climate, wildlife, forests, toxic, hazardous, garbage, trash, waste, la nd conservation, water c onservation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy conservation. These terms were chosen by entering the broader terms of environmental protection and pollution into the popular search engine Ask.com and clicking on a link to e xpand the search. The above terms were all listed as ways to expand the search while k eeping on topic. Due to the small number of bills on certain issues and the closely related nature of some of the terms, the following categories of bills were created: climate, wildlife, forests, toxic/hazardous, garbage/trash/waste, land conservation, water conserva tion, renewable energy/energy efficiency/energy conservation. Bivariate correlations on all da ta were then compiled in order to determine a positive or negative relationship for each variable in relation to public views on the environment provided by the GSS. Examining the views of respondents base d on race and class will allow me to scrutinize whether congressional action is more in tune with the environmental concerns of citizens based on race and/or class. If the results of this study s how that congressional action is more positively correlated with th e opinions of white respondents as some researchers (DeLeon and Naff 2004) would sugge st, it would be impor tant because in a democracy all citizens are considered equa l and therefore thei r opinions should be considered equal by their representatives. If certain groups of people are being ignored on an issue it would undermine one of the f ounding concepts of our democracy, that all people are created equal. In order to examine the correlation of a persons race on c ongressional action, the responses to the question on environmental concern were filtered by the race of the
20 respondent into the categories of White, Blac k, and Other. These are the only categories used by the GSS to racially identify respondents. This allowed for the examination of correlation between white concern for the environment and the introduction of bills dealing with environmental issues compared with minority concern for the environment and the introduction of bills dealing with environmental issues. Because of the low numbers of respondents classi fied as Black and Other these categories were combined into one M inority category. Similarly, filtering the respondents to the question on environmental concern by income controlled for class. The GSS asked respondents to identify themselves by income as upper class, middle class, working class, and lower class. This provided the opportunity to examine if the economic background of those concerned with the environment is correlated with congressiona l action. With this information it becomes possible to examine whether the opinions of upper class respondents, or what critical theorists might refer to as powerful elites, are correlated with congr essional action more positively than the opinions of other groups.
21 Chapter 4 Findings The Pearson correlation showed a signifi cant relationship betw een the publics views on environmental spending and the numbe r of bills introduced in the House and Senate addressing several environmental issues As more respondents stated that they were in favor of more government sp ending on environmental protection, the introduction of bills in the following cat egories showed a significant positive relationship; wildlife (.632*)1, toxic or hazardous material s (.701**), garbage, trash, or waste (.630*), overall environm ental protection (.597*), and total environmental laws (.659**). Stated another way, as the public felt more needed to be done to protect the environment, the introduction of bills addres sing the above issues was higher. As the GSS showed more Americans fe lt the government was spending about the right amount on environmental protection, bills under the same search terms that showed a significant positive relationship when public opinion was in favor of spending more, now showed a significant negative relations hip; wildlife (-.708**), toxic or hazardous materials (-.597*), garbage, trash, or wast e (-.643**), overall environmental protection (.608*), and total environmental laws (-.673**) So, as the public expressed more satisfaction with what was being done to protect the environment, the introduction of bills dealing with these issues s howed a significant decrease. These findings seem to support classic democratic theorists who feel public opinion is a driver of congressional action. Race 1 signals significance at the .05 level ** signals significance at the .01 level
22 With regard to race, the correlation matrix shows significant positive relationships between the number of whites feeling that the government is spending too little on the environment and congressional debate on th e topics of wildlife (.620*), toxic or hazardous materials (.729**), garbage, trash, or waste (.618*), and environmental protection (.602*), as well as the total number of laws de bated (.668**). So, as white respondents felt more concern about environm ental issues, a correlation with increased introduction of legislation on the above issues was found. As the proportion whites who felt the government was spending about the right amount on environmental protection increased, the results show a negative relationship with the introduction of bills on the topics of toxic or haza rdous waste (-.631*), garbage, trash, or waste (-.643*), and environmental pr otection (-.638*), as well as the number of total laws debated (-.707**). So as whites showed higher levels of satisfaction with governmental spending on environmental issu es, a negative correlation was found with the introduction of bills on these issues. The number of whites who felt the g overnment was spending too much on environmental protection was significantly negatively correlated only with laws introduced on the topic of toxic or hazardous waste (-.669**). This finding seems to suggest that the richest people are seeing their concerns largely ignored by their congressional representatives. This idea will be explored below in the discussion section. The results for respondents that identify them selves as white reflect the results of the overall population. As more whites felt th at more needed to be done to protect the environment, the results show a positive relationship with th e number of bills introduced on environmental issues. Interestingly, th e views of black respondents and respondents
23 categorized as other showed no significant corr elation with any of the categories of bills introduced. This result seems to lend credence to the social resear chers that claim the views of minority Americans are being overlooked. This idea will be elaborated on further in the discussion s ection of this work. Class With regard to economic class, as respondents who identified themselves as lower class felt the government was spending too li ttle on environmental protection, there was a significant positive correlation with the in troduction of bills addressing the issues concerning wildlife (.533*), garbage, trash, or waste (.647**), and environmental protection (.580*), as well as th e total number of laws deba ted (.728**). At times when the number of respondents identified as lower cl ass felt more needed to be done to protect the environment was higher, the findings show a positive relationship with the number of bills introduced on these issues. When lower class respondents felt the government was spending about the right amount on protection of the environment, th ere was a significant negative correlation with the number of bills introduced on issues of pollution (-.514*) and garbage, trash, or waste (-.524*), as well as the total number of bills introduced (-.633*). At times when the number of lower class respondents that stated they were more satisfied with governmental spending on protecting the envi ronment increased, the number of bills introduced in Congress showed a si gnificantly negative relationship. The results for working class respondents showed that at times when the working class felt the government was spending too li ttle on environmental protection there was a positive correlation with the number of bills in troduced on the topics of wildlife (.647*),
24 toxic or hazardous materials (.656**), garbage, trash, or waste (.589*), and environmental protection (.515*), as well as the total number of bills introduced (.637*). Again, at times when concern among working class respondents for more environmental protection was high, the number of bills introduced on the above topics showed a positive relationship. At times when working class respondent s felt about the right amount was being spent on environmental protection there was a significantly negative correlation with the introduction of bills on the issues of wild life (-.767**), toxic or hazardous materials (.516*), and garbage, trash, or waste (-.517*), as well as the total number of bills introduced (-.649**). So as working class respondents felt enough was being spent on protecting the environment, c ongressional action on environmenta l legislation was lower. These results will be examined in relation to interest group theory in the discussion section below. Moving up in income from working cla ss to middle class, at times when the number of respondents identified by the G SS as middle class felt the government was spending too little on protecting and improvi ng the environment was higher, there was significant positive correlation with the introduc tion of bills on issues of wildlife (.559*), toxic or hazardous materials (.670**), garbage, trash, or waste (.574*), and environmental protection (.578*), as well as the number of total of bills introduced (.584*). Here we see again that when the num ber of people who feel that more needs to be done to protect the environm ent increases, in this case th ose identified as middle class, more congressional action occurs on these environm ental issues.
25 The number of those in the middle cla ss who felt about the right amount was being spent was significantly negatively correl ated with the introducti on of bills on issues of wildlife (-.550*), toxic or hazardous materials (-.556*), garbage, trash, or waste (.620*), and environmental protection (-.542*), as well as the total number of bills introduced (-.549*). Mirroring the previous re sults, we see again w ith the middle class respondents that as the number of people who st ate that they are more satisfied with what is being done to protect the environment, the amount of legisl ation introduced in Congress is significantly lower. However, th e results from the peopl e identified as upper class break this trend. The views of those identified themselves as upper class show ed a significantly positive relationship with the number of bills being introduced in only one category, toxic or hazardous materials (.551*), and the num ber who felt about the right amount was being spent was negatively relate d (-.561*) on the same topic. Here we see that when the number of upper class respondents felt more needed to be spent to protect the environment was higher, more bills deali ng only with toxic or hazardous materials received congressional attention, and when the number of upper class respondents felt spending on environmental issues was about ri ght, congressional action on this topic was significantly lower. All of the previous economic categ ories showed significant positive correlation with bills addre ssing the issues of wildlife, garbage trash or waste, environmental protection, and the total number of bills introduced. Lower, working, and middle class respondents also showed negative correlations with the introduction of bills on the topics of garbage trash or waste as well as the total number of bills introduced.
26 The facts that the upper class respondents di d not share these correlations are surprising results, which will be discussed in the following discussion section. The overarching theme that emerges from these results shows that for those identified as lower class, working class, a nd middle class, as the number of people that felt the government should be doing more to protect the environment (as evidenced by their feeling that the gover nment was not spending enough on environmental concerns), the number of bills addressing environmental issues introduced by Congress was positively related. Conversely, when the f eeling was that enough was being done to protect the environment (as evidenced by their appraisa l that the government was spending enough about the right amount on e nvironmental issues) congressional action slowed on these issues. Again this seems to support classic democratic theorists who feel that public opinion influences congressional ac tion. However, this trend did not hold for the upper class respondents where data yiel ded only two signifi cant relationships: a positive correlation between too little spending and the introduction of bills dealing with toxic or hazardous materials and a negativ e correlation between the right amount of spending and the introduction of bills addr essing toxic or hazardous materials.
27 Chapter 5 Discussion This section will focus on how the results of this study compare with the theories of democracy described in earlier chapters. The significant positive relationship between public support for more government spending to protect the envir onment and number of environmental bills introduced in Congre ss seems to support the hypothesis that public opinion does have an effect on legislative action (Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson, 2002; Erikson, Wright, and McIver, 1993), at least to the point of introduci ng new legislation if not to the extent of passing new and/or meaningful laws. At times when the public feels like more needs to be done to protect th e environment, Congress responds with the introduction of new bills on environmental issues. Of course, as stated above, this correlation could be the result of factors this study could not c ontrol for such as the affect of media influences on a mass society. This limitation will be discussed further below. It is also worth noting that only four of the ten categories of bills examined showed a significant correlati on with public concern. The fact that some of these categories had small average Ns might explai n the lack of significant findings, but one category were that explanation does not hold is the category of bills addressing pollution. The average N for pollution bills introduced each year was 33, the second highest average for the categories studied. The fact that almost no significan t correlations were found in relation to pollution coul d point to these issues bein g influenced by factors other than public opinion. Without further study it is only speculation, but it could be that vested interests such as large corporati ons are exerting political influence to limit
28 congressional action on this issue. Polluti on is one area where the interests of big business are in direct opposition to the public interest. The fa ct that public opinion is not significantly correlated with congressional action on this topic is quite troubling. The fact that the number of new signifi cant laws protecting the environment was too small to be statistically useful for this study lends credence to theorists like Domhoff (1967, 1990, 2002), Manza and Cook (2002 as cite d in Burstein 2006) and others who feel that Congress acts independently of pub lic opinion. These theorists could use the results of this study to support their assertion that Congress may pay lip service to public opinion, in this case through the introduction of bills, but when the time comes to make meaningful change public opinion holds little or no sway. While the number of bills introduced rises and falls with popular suppor t for environmental spending, the number of major environmental laws that are passe d is small enough to be insignificant. Though major laws are rarely passed, it is interesting to see how race and class influence the topics of congressional action. The fact that whites were the only racial group that showed any significant correlation between their concern for the environment and action on a congressional level could conf irm the views of many critical and conflict theorists who feel that the opinions and needs of those out side of the dominant racial group are ignored. This is es pecially important given th at this study specifically examines issues that those working in the environmental justice movement identify as important to minorities such as toxic and hazardous waste and pollution. That congressional action on these i ssues in particular showed no significant correlation with the feelings of minority respondents supports the argument of those working within the environmental justice movement that the voi ces of minorities are consistently ignored.
29 The environmental justice academics might point out that, as discussed above, minority Americans view the environmen t in different terms than their white counterparts. Therefore, when they are aske d in a survey if they feel the government spends too little, too much, or about the ri ght amount on environmental protection, they might view the question differently, and give an answer based on a different understanding of the question compared to the understanding a white respondent might have from the same question. Respondents that live in an urban environment could have a very different concept of environmental protection than responde nts living in a more suburban or rural environment. It could be argued that elected represen tatives from largely minority areas might have a better understanding of their constitu ents views on environmental issues than a general survey could obtain. It would be in teresting to see another researcher use the results of this study to examine how in t ouch elected representatives are with their constituency in regards to environmental issues. As stated above, a critic of this study might argue that minority respondents might have a different view of the question asked in relation to money being the appropriate way to help environmental problems found in minority neighborhoods. For this criticism to be fair, one would have to assume th at a minority respondent taking the GSS would consider money to be of little value in helpi ng with their specific environmental issue. It would be interesting to see future research focus on how many people feel that money would not be helpful in solving some envi ronmental issues. However, taken at face value, the results of th is study seem to indicate that ra cial minorities hold less political power than their white counterparts, at leas t on the issue of envir onmental protection. A
30 study designed to gain an understanding of how politicians serve their unique constituencies could suppor t these results or qualify them in various ways. With regard to class, these findings show that it is the working and middle class respondents that showed the most significan t correlation between their feelings of concern for environmental issues and the in troduction of bills focused on environmental issues. Again, this would seem to confirm th e views of scholars who feel that political action is driven to a large extent by public opinion. According to 2003 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/PressRelease/www/releases/archi ves/income_wealth/002484.html), 73.9% of Americans are working or middle class, so el ected officials could be trying to respond to the feelings of their constituents. Conversely, the same counterargument made in regard to race can be applied to the issue of class. The results of this study show an increase in the number of bills introduced on issues the public feels need addressing, but few major laws are passed regardless of public opinion. Other interest gr oup theorists could ar gue that lobbyist and campaign contributors are ultimately having a larger effect becaus e little significant legislation to protect the environment is bei ng passed despite the desire from the public to see action from their elected officials. However, as discussed above, many theori sts would dismiss the idea of peoples changing opinion affecting congressional ac tion, even given these results. Critical theorists could point to the in fluence of our mass society, wh ere media coverage could be affecting both public opinion a nd congressional action, or co ngressional action could be affecting media coverage, which is affec ting public opinion. Domhof f (2005) argued that
31 income producers affect both public opini on and congressional action through public relations departments of la rge corporations and non-pr ofit organizations whose only purpose is to spread influence. It would be interesting to see th e results of this study tested in future research designed to st udy how individual opinions are formed on the issue of the environment, and how the opini ons of elected officials are influenced. Another interesting result of the statistical analysis was the fact that the respondents who identified themselves as upper class showed a significantly positive relationship with only the introduction of bills introduced on the topic of toxic or hazardous materials. This result seems to st rengthen the argument of classic democratic theorists who argue that people are represen ted equally, and the fact that a relatively small number of wealthy people are not as powerful as the large number of people who are middle class or lower. However, there are a couple of possibl e reasons that could explain why this study produced these results, yet interest groups theorists such as Domhoff could still be correct. Firstly, it is a statistically small chance that a person Domhoff would refer to as powerful elite would be contacted by a GSS researcher, much less take the time to complete a 90-minute telephone interview. There is a good chance nobody that completed the survey is a member of the power elite. Secondly, if the GSS did find power elite to take the survey, and if those people answered the questions honestly and openly, it is possible that the opinions held be these respondents are influenced differently than th e average American. It is possible that instead of their opinion being driven by our mass mediated society; they are the people deciding what issues are c overed by the mass media news or they are the people responsible for the congression al agenda. Therefore, instead of their opinions being
32 influenced by the media or congressional ac tion, the opinions of the power elite come first, and they then influence the media, la rger public opinion, or congressional action. If Domhoffs views are corre ct, it is possible that the opinions of the power elite come first, then systems move to exert influence, and the opinions of power elites have moved on before a general survey could gather the information.
33 Chapter 6 Research Limitations and Implications Like all research, this stu dy is not without its limitati ons, the first limitation being the data and statistical measure. This data allows for the discovery of correlations, but does not provide the opportunity to make clai ms about causality. It is impossible with this data to determine if public opinion is causing a change in congressional action; it is only possible to see how the two are correlated. It could be that one is affecting the other, or it could be that something el se is affecting both. It would be interesting to see future researchers use the results of this study to develop a temporal study that could measure causality. This data also limits what can be said about change over time. This study focuses on frequencies in one year, then the next, and then the next. It would be of interest to see how a change in opinion one year was related to congressional action in following years. Future avenues of research on this topic could also focus on comparing the data from this study with the political party aff iliation of the representatives involved with bringing environmental issues to the congression al floor, or the politic al affiliation of the respondents to the survey. Ot her research could focus on some combination of the two. It would be interesting to know if elected officials are more li kely to introduce legislation based on their constituents (same party affiliation) views. It would also be interesting to know if a congressperson was mo re or less likely to sponsor environmental legislation if they were up for reelection w ithin a specific time period.
34 Using the results of this st udy, it would be interesting to see future research done on why there is such a large difference betw een the correlation of white Americans views on the environment and congressional action compared to the correlation of minority Americans views and congressional action and if that difference can be attributed to a differing unders tanding of terms and questions used in the survey. This could possibly be accomplished using a more in-depth qualitative study. While not without its limitations, this study does have important implications. According to the results descri bed above, there is a large disparity between the effect of the opinions held by white Americans on c ongressional action and the effect of the opinions of minority Americans. Whatever th e source of the discrepancy, the fact that such a discrepancy exists is a significant findi ng, deserving of future research attention. The second major implication of this re search is that these findings do seem consistent with the theory that public opinion does stimul ate congressional action, but only action in the form of the introduction of bi lls, not the passage of new laws. This fact implies that Congress does notice when Americ ans become concerned about an issue, but the fact that little major legi slation comes from the increased number of bills introduced suggests that the introduction of these bills could be just lip se rvice. It will be important for researchers in future studies to use these results to lead to a deeper understanding of the role the views of the public play verses the role of sp ecial interests in producing, or more likely limiting, legislation. The results of this study are quite disturbing as they regard the political efficacy of the average American. This lack of efficacy is an especially important finding given the topic of the environment. Environmental issues are one area of American politics where individual
35 citizens and corporations are nearly always at odds. The fact that so little major legislation has been passed (20 laws si nce 1973 and none since 1990) and that citizens are obviously concerned given poll data be gs the question of whether, or more realistically how, special interests are thwarting the democratic process.
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39 Table 1: GSS, Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Environmental Policy; Correlation between Percent who Believe Too Little Spent on Environmental Protection and Number of Environmental Bills Proposed in 10 Areas, 1977-2002*** Pollution Average N = 33 Climate Average N = 4 Wildlife Average N = 29 Forests Average N = 9 Land C onservation Average N = 5 Toxic Hazardou s Average N = 31 Garbage Trash Average N = 48 Energy Conservatio n Average N = 8 Environment al Protection Average N = 19 Water Conservatio n Average N = 8 Total Bills Avg N = 194 Entire Sample, Too Little Spent Average N = 980 Pearsons R -.050 .345 .632* .248 .074 .701** .630* .234 .016 .597* .659** Sig. # .859 .209 .012 .373 .793 .004 .012 .402 .955 .019 .008 White, Too Little Spent Average N = 559 Pearsons R -.068 .344 .620* .411 -.005 .729** .618* .327 -.051 .602* .992** Sig. # .818 .228 .018 .144 .987 .003 .018 .254 .864 .023 .000 Minority, Too Little Spent Average N = 116 Pearsons R -.107 -.002 .400 .066 .255 .178 .298 -.360 -.114 .267 .629* Sig. # .716 .995 .157 .824 .379 .543 .301 .206 .698 .356 .016 Upper Class, Too Little Spent Average N = 30 Pearson R -.425 .121 .352 .288 -.230 .551* .346 .251 -.162 .314 .704** Sig. # .114 .668 .199 .298 .410 .033 .206 .366 .563 .255 .003
40 Middle Class, Too Little Spent Average N = 437 Pearsons R -.067 .242 .559* .173 .040 .670** .574* .117 -.074 .578* .979** Sig. # .814 .385 .030 .537 .888 .006 .025 .678 .792 .024 .000 Working Class, Too Little Spent Average N = 464 Pearsons R -.066 .435 .647** .269 .126 .656** .589* .329 .114 .515* .947** Sig. # .816 .105 .009 .332 .654 .008 .021 .231 .687 .049 .000 Lower Class, Too Little Spent Average N = 48 Pearsons R .510 .409 .533* .230 .338 .342 .647** .255 .352 .580* .387 Sig. # .052 .130 .041 .410 .218 .212 .009 .359 .198 .023 .154 Table 1 continued # Two tailed test Correlation is sign ificant at .05 level ** Correlation is signif icant at .001 level *** Number of years included in table is 15. Poll was not conducted every year after 1992
41 Table 2: GSS, Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Environm ental Policy; Correlation between Percent who Believe About the Right Amount is being Spent on Environmental Protectio n and Number of Environmental Bills Proposed in 10 Areas, 1977-2002*** Pollution Average N = 33 Climate Average N = 4 Wildlife Average N = 29 Forests Average N = 9 Land C onservation Average N = 5 Toxic Hazardous Average N = 31 Garbage Trash Average N = 48 Energy Conservation Average N = 8 Environment al Protection Average N = 19 Water Conservation Average N = 8 Total bills Avg N = 194 Entire Sample, About Right Being Spent Average N = 680 Pearsons R -.080 -.415 -.708** -.254 -.060 -.597* -.643** -.126 -.089 -.608* -.927** Sig. # .777 .124 .003 .360 .831 .019 .010 .654 .753 .016 .000 White, About Right Being Spent Average N = 295 Pearsons R -.090 -.418 -.727** -.458 -.013 -.631* -.643* -.213 -.027 -.638* -.941** Sig. # .760 .137 .003 .100 .964 .016 .013 .464 .927 .014 .000 Minority, About Right Being Spent Average N = 46 Pearsons R .157 -.030 -.403 -.183 -.104 .001 -.185 .237 .061 -.208 -.526 Sig. # .593 .918 .153 .530 .724 .998 .527 .415 .836 .474 .054 Upper Class, About Right Being Spent Average N = 11 Pearsons R .364 -.168 -.310 -.247 .233 -.561* -.298 -.152 .187 -.267 -.650**
42 Sig. # .182 .548 .260 .374 .403 .030 .281 .589 .504 .337 .009 Middle Class, About Right Being Spent Average N = 154 Pearsons R -.010 -.238 -.550* -.111 .044 -.556* -.602* .050 .079 -.542* -.893** Sig. # .972 .393 .034 .694 .876 .031 .018 .859 .779 .037 .000 Working Class, About Right Being Spent Average N = 142 Pearsons R -.097 -.546* -.767** -.376 -.170 -.516* -.517* -.354 -.300 -.509 -.838** Sig. # .731 .035 .001 .168 .545 .049 .049 .195 .277 .052 .000 Lower Class, About Right Being Spent Average N = 16 Pearsons R -.514* -.448 -.425 -.168 -.347 -.311 -.524* -.274 -.392 -.437 -.230 Sig. # .050 .094 .114 .548 .205 .258 .045 .323 .148 .103 .409 Table 2 continued # Two tailed test Correlation is sign ificant at .05 level ** Correlation is signif icant at .001 level *** Number of years included in table is 15. Poll was not conducted every year after 1992
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Jarvis, Hugh Eugene.
Public opinion and the introduction of congressional environmental legislation, 1973-2002
h [electronic resource] /
by Hugh Eugene Jarvis.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 42 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: This study examines the relationship between public opinion about the environment and the introduction of congressional legislation on environmental issues. Using public opinion data gathered by the General Social Survey from 1977 to 2002, this work examines correlations between how the public views the environment in each and the number of bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate addressing environmental issues. The findings indicate that there is a correlation between overall concern felt in the public and congressional action on certain aspects of environmental protection. The results also highlight the potentially disturbing finding that the race and economic class of a respondent play a role in the level of correlation between respondents' concern for the environment and congressional action on environmental issues
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Co-advisor: Laurel Graham, Ph.D.
Co-advisor: Michael Lynch, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.