Creating and Mobilizing Public Opinion

The radical transformation of U.S. pollution-control laws would have been impossible without strong, consistent public pressure on federal and state governments, especially on the Congress and state legislators. Current public opinion polls suggest that more than 80 percent of Americans agree with the goals of the environmental movement. The strength of this support is suggested by other polls consistently reporting since 1980 that more than two-thirds of the public believe environmental protection should be a major government priority, even at the risk of reducing economic growth. The breadth and depth of this ecological consciousness are remarkable, considering that few Americans understood the implications of ecology or the nature of domestic environmental pollution only a few decades ago. The most important political impact of this vigorous public environmentalism is on the electoral system: Candidates for major federal and state office are now customarily expected to support strong pollution controls and other ecologically protective policies, at least in principle. While Americans often disagree vigorously over pollution control methods, air and water pollution regulation itself is now an enduring component of the "American political consensus"— those policies Americans overwhelmingly view as the essential responsibility of their government.

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