The Social Bases of Environmental Concern: Have They Changed Over Time?1


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    This is a major revision of a paper presented at the 1989 annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Seattle. We would like to thank Rodney K. Baxter, Michael P. Allen, Paul Melevin of Washington State University and anonymous reviewers for making helpful comments on earlier versions.


Abstract Using data obtained from National Opinion Research Center's General Social Surveys (1973–1990), this paper tests two hypotheses concerning possible changes in the sociopolitical correlates of environmental concern. The “broadening base” hypothesis predicts that environmental concern will diffuse throughout the populace, resulting in a broader base of support for environmental protection, while the “economic contingency” hypothesis predicts that the economically deprived will disproportionately withdraw support for environmental protection during poor economic conditions. Analysis of the data over the 18 years, however, failed to lend any clear support for either of the hypotheses. In marked contrast, results indicate that the social bases of environmental concern—at least as measured by the NORC environmental spending item—have remained remarkably stable over nearly two decades despite fluctuating economic, political, and environmental conditions. Younger adults, the well-educated, political liberals, Democrats, those raised and currently living in urban areas, and those employed outside of primary industries were found to be consistently more supportive of environmental protection than were their respective counterparts.