Surveys

Here is a list of the surveys we have done:

Background Description

PolicyInteractive is exploring the disconnect between climate science and public policy. The science strongly suggests we’re headed for a climate train wreck while effective public policy is stymied by strong actors holding competing interests. The root of the research is examination of public opinion as a driver of collective actions and effective public policy. Research is Oregon focused but draws from national and international methods and findings. To minimize opinion survey error based on single issue sensitivity, as well as obtain opinion results relative to other competing social interests, surveys are designed to place global warming within a subset of other pressing social issues. A range of survey methods are utilized and methods are reviewed by outside experts in survey research.

The project is intended to:

  • Explore possible connections between opinions and environmentally important behaviors.
  • Involve public officials and environmental leadership in research design and results.
  • Implement a mixture of survey methods to listen to broadly representative citizen views.
  • Elicit regular feedback from project advisors to inform methodology development.
  • Explore and test insights for broadly supported public policy.

Each survey embodies four primary research threads:

  • Relativity of importance of main cultural concerns in public consciousness.
  • Support for climate change policy options.
  • Seek understanding about values which inform behavior.
  • Link demographic information to cultural findings.

Implementation

We are currently two years into a project intended to complete 5-8 Oregon-wide opinion surveys.   Each individual survey is intended to iteratively inform the next in an exploration of beliefs, aspirations, values and cultural motivations.   As of December 2009, 5 random Oregon-wide surveys have been completed and two detailed interviews processes.

Our findings to date have caused us to alter course toward a more general exploration of “values” from the original intent to drill into policy.   This course correction is reinforced by the current economic downturn occupying a disproportionate amount of policymaker attention – the “economy” has taken most of the oxygen from “climate concern”.    We recognize that all individualistic or social concern resides in a dynamic of concerns and issues, and “climate concern” is only relevant if viewed in the broad range of cultural demands and emotions.

Further, we have always assumed that effective long-term policy requires a firm foundation on values and beliefs.  Thus, this research utilizes academic and empirical findings in behavior and values from studies and literature. As with other research we’ve been tracking, we continue to affirm and struggle with the difference of aspiration and behavior.

Our results uncovered a layer of social commonality we did not expect to find.   Early on we found extremely high response agreement to problems of consumption in our culture.   We find the issue of consumption as a cultural negative shows strong agreement with both the right and left and bridges other ideological rifts.  Because American consumption levels have a strong correlation with emissions, there is potential for positive social change by supplanting some of the dialogue about climate change more toward consumption reduction.  Based on outside evidence, we’re not convinced that such dialogue should be carried by the usual suspects.   And we don’t believe this can be done through variations of scolding and guilt- association messages.   We believe the research needs to define the positive values and motivations people feel about “why our country would be a better place if we all consumed less”   We therefore believe deeper examination of values and motivations is justified.   It is with this objective we report where we’ve traversed and where we now find ourselves.

Surveys

People are justifiably dubious of survey results because surveys and opinions are susceptible to bias.  Please see our discussion on “Methodology” to reduce survey bias  under the index tab “Analysis and Opinions”.

Currently, the project has completed five random Oregon-wide surveys and two detailed qualitative interviews.

Survey #1: Climate Change & Government Policy (n=402)

1.    Opinion survey on Climate Change & Government Policy.  This was Oregon-wide N=400, completed in April 08.    We believe this survey tied Oregon results to national research, affirming the challenge for ‘climate policy’ public support, and discovered a novel view on alternative message strategy regarding consumption.  Among other interesting findings, this survey shows Oregonians view climate change less threateningly than the nation as a whole and that 87% of respondents agree “our country would be better off if we all consumed less”.    This survey used a select set of values indicators to obtain richer social characterizations than possible with traditional demographic segments like age, gender, voting preference, etc.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #2: Fuel, Energy Costs & Government Policy (n=400)

This was Oregon-wide n=400 completed in June ’08 as the price was rising past $3.50 per gallon. The purpose was to put fuel anxiety issues in context with other social concerns including climate change. This survey affirmed the challenge of our social attachment to inexpensive energy, affirmed our earlier “values” findings and added detail toward views of consumption.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #3a: Qualitative Interviews on Consumption with Prior Respondents (n=34)

Because our advisory critiques expressed concerns that we might be misjudging what respondents mean about “consumption”, we embarked on interviewing a selected group of respondents from our first survey.    This Consumption Concern, n=34, interview focused on respondents comparatively right-wing ideologically and unconcerned about climate change.  From the data file in the Climate survey (“A”, above), they were selected for  a) don’t think climate change is a concern; b) think environmentalists are extremists; c) believe “Our country would be a better place if we all consumed less”; d) chose the statement that  ”This economic downturn may be just what we need to reorder our values” over “This economic downturn means our leaders should do everything necessary to stimulate the economy” and e) had previously given us permission for a return call (“recruit question”).  Respondent file analysis clearly suggested these interviewees fit into the standard “conservative” definition.  From a pool of 85 respondents, four research interviewers made a total of 34 follow-up interviews to ask individuals views, in their own words, what they mean by “consume less”, if they themselves should consume less and/or how, what “values” they think need to be reordered, and a cluster of related items about economic, environmental and social policy issues.    Responses were recorded and transcribed into a synopsis presentation.   Results showed a surprising degree of social commonality below the conventional ideological veneer.  Analysis indicates possible openings to frame consumption (hence emissions) in non-ideological terms.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #3b: Qualitative Interviews on Consumption with Selected Influentials (n=30)

This survey expanded our qualitative interviews on Consumption Concern, this time with cultural “influentials”.   Interview process similar to format described in #3.    Completed with 32 influentials or “elites” who are deemed to interacted with at least 300 citizens per year on social or policy issues.  They were chosen to have cultural influence in politics, commerce, religion, and academics, with each sector bringing ideological balance to the interviews.   The intent was to compare responses between the ‘influential’ class, the select sample described in E above, and the Oregon-wide representative samples.   Findings suggest a comparable concern and level of agreement regarding consumption as seen in all of our sampling and interviewing, but with a higher level of stated concern for climate issues and sensitivity to economic security.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #4: Role of Government & Taxation (n=402)

Opinion survey on Government and Taxation, revisited some items from earlier surveys and extended our triangulation on consumption issues.   This survey was completed November 30, 2008.   Here we focused on the views of citizens toward government’s role compared to individual roles in addressing consumption, and specifically tested variable responses to fees and taxes in how they addressed consumption.    Results show continued strong concerns about society over-consumption. Lesser but majority interest support greater costs for consumption in general,  a lack of confidence in government to handle such fees effectively, and a strong feeling that the taxation system is broken.  For example, while a whopping 91% agreed that “taxes are necessary to pay for things of the common good”,  68% agreed that “Government is wasteful and inefficient and cannot be trusted to make good decisions”.   Seventy seven percent said they would support a consumption tax on luxuries if it were fair to low income people, although occurring late in the survey this response is somewhat suspect from earlier priming effects.   An inserted “values” question set module from a British research firm (Cultural Dynamics which does values research around the world) showed that Oregonians differ from U.S. citizens by being significantly less acquisitive, more adaptable and quality of life oriented.   Results continued earlier findings of strong support for ‘consume-less’ among citizens who are conservative ideologically and strongly religious.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #5: Economic Downturn & Values (n=406)

A fifth statewide survey in April 2009 aimed at greater detail in understanding citizen views of Consumption Costs & Fees within the context of the economic downturn.  We were interested in  looking at consumption issues relative to declining revenues to support state and local services and degrees of willingness of recipients to pay higher fees or costs on various forms of consumption.   This survey drilled deeper into attitudes to make individual changes, sacrifices and support for public policy.  We were also interested in the deepening economic downturn effect on earlier reported consumption attitudes.   This survey also worked to juxtapose the ‘consume less’ disposition with equivalent statements aiming to test the balance of the goods and benefits of consumption against ‘consume less’, rotating questions to neutralize question order effect.    We  continue to see strong support for ‘consume less’, considerably stronger than agreement response to the need to consume to support the economy.    A body of research based on the World Values Survey predicts that economic downturns trigger materialistic tendencies but this is not borne out in our current results.    Noteworthy, the first national survey we’ve seen testing the ‘consume less’ disposition shows the response comparable to our four survey responses.  This April 2009 survey commissioned by the Center for American Progress found that a ‘consume-less’ item obtained the highest level of common agreement on forty items which they believe define American ideology.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #6: Consumption & Happiness (n=403)

Survey 6 on Consumption and Happiness, completed in December 2009, continued the exploration of the consumption disposition.   Expanding on our values research, we borrowed question items based on forty years of world-wide research from Ron Inglehart and colleagues covering values, materialism and well-being.   Inglehart’s work draws on the open-sourced survey data pool involving dozens of countries.   The intent of this survey was to seek better explanations as why so many Oregonians believe consuming less would be better for us.  As this economic moment is being dubbed the ‘great recession’, the consume-less disposition has shown some strengthening after several earlier modest declines, even as a majority of citizens answer that the downturn has had a sizable impact on them.    This survey employed more “open ended answers” to what such things as ‘consumption’, ‘global warming’, and ‘happiness’ mean to them.  The results continue to affirm a deeply shared cultural view that consuming less shows significantly greater strength than buying goods to support the economy.  We also begin a comparison of the relationship of income, greenhouse emissions, and happiness between Oregon, the United States, and three countries with population characteristics similar to Oregon.   This analysis shows no correlation between income and subjective well-being in nations like the USA, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Sweden, affirming people may actually understand the adage that ‘money can’t buy happiness’.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Survey #7: Economy, Environment & Public Policy (n=400)

Survey 7 on The Economy, Environment and Public Policy was conducted between November 30 and December 10, 2010 with 400 Oregonians age 18 and older. This survey departed from the prior five surveys, where we drilled deeper into cultural values as they relate to our research into consumption attitudes. Rather, this survey covers some cultural issues much more generally and broadly, especially cultural views toward the economy and broad views of our political system. Unlike our earlier surveys we used no “values theory” question battery, opting instead to free up room for more open-ended responses to certain general questions such as the direction of the country.

Another format change from the prior five was a return to a “forced choice” style of question where a respondent is asked to choose between to potentially difficult pathways defining our cultural direction. The question form uses a pair of statements designed to frame oppositional differences which are cultural dilemmas. A refinement on the commonly used forced choice is that we define what we mean when we ask a respondent if they “feel strongly” as being sufficient for “taking some action such as speaking out in public, writing a letter to a newspaper, donating money to an organization or being a key reason for voting for an issue or person.” We believe this question form improves the measurement of extremity of viewpoint as a “behavior” indicator than commonly available through standard measures of “level of agreement” where acquiescence (tendency to be agreeable) bias is a well researched weakness in surveying.

Consistent with past methodology, the survey questionnaire was peer reviewed and pre tested before fielding to minimize bias or priming. The last question of the survey asked respondents if they had any observations or comments about the survey, about half respondents offered input but only four of four hundred offered that the survey seemed prejudiced or biased; two were self-identified conservatives and two were liberal-progressives.

PI’s telephone landline sample method recognizes a bias toward older and more conservative respondents. We do not yet consider this a fatal weakness because we prefer a slight slant to conservative views on the environment and public policy, two topics toward which conservatives are commonly seen as unsympathetic. Nonetheless, a follow-up survey of 1200 northwest respondents of our key benchmark items in January of 2011 by DHM Research affirmed the accuracy of our findings, a topic discussed in the Survey 7 briefing paper about citizen dissatisfaction with contemporary pubic policy. Other than being slightly conservative and older age biased, the survey is geographically and gender representative of Oregon citizens eighteen and older.

Registered visitors can view detailed results (see our Access Policy):

Methodology

Random sample Oregon-wide surveys are conducted by outside professional contractors following industry standards. Qualitative interviews are conducted by PI staff working from standardized templates. Strong effort is made to construct survey instruments which are ideologically balanced and are peer reviewed by qualified advisors. PowerPoint presentations are shown with the full set of survey questions in the order they were asked, with rotations and n variations noted. Break-out results or consolidated findings expand on the connections between the surveys and outside research. PolicyInteractive adheres to the Code of Professional Ethics and Practices of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.