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Concerns about the environment and climate change are growing, poll finds

President Trump shows a signed executive order supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. None
President Trump shows a signed executive order supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Americans remain most worried about terror and the economy as President Trump’s term begins, but in part because of his successful campaign, citizens have grown more concerned about environmental protections and global trade than in past years, according to a new Pew Research poll.

More than half of the Americans surveyed — 55% — said protecting the environment should be among the top priorities of the new president. Trump campaigned on loosening such protections, and on Tuesday, he reversed some Obama administration policies to potentially restart the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. He also has made clear his intent to weaken environmental regulations that he says harm the economy.

The desire to place the environment at the top of the new president’s concerns has risen by 14 points since the start of President Obama’s first term. Similarly, concern about climate change has risen 8 points, to 38%.

Views on the environment are sharply partisan. Among Democrats, 72% said that protecting the environment should be a top priority, compared with 35% of Republicans. On another environmental question, 62% of Democrats said fighting global climate change should be a top priority; only 15% of Republicans shared that view.

The importance that Democrats place on climate change has increased over the last several years. In 2015, 46% said it should be a top priority; last year, that rose to 56% before increasing again this year, the Pew survey said. Republican interest in it has ebbed slightly, from 19% in 2015 to 16% in 2016, statistically the same as it is now.

On the issue of trade, 40% of Americans now consider it a top priority for the Trump administration, up from 31% last year. Trump promised during the campaign to void trade deals that he said hurt American manufacturing jobs, and on Monday, he officially pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. The poll did not make clear whether the increased interest in the topic was driven by opponents or supporters of his position.

Overall, Republicans were far more concerned than were Democrats about strengthening the military, dealing with immigration, reducing the budget deficit and enacting  tax reform. Apart from reducing the budget deficit, all were central issues in Trump’s successful campaign.

On the matter of immigration, 59% of Republicans felt that it should be a top priority, a view held by only 31% of Democrats. The percentage among Democrats fell 10 points this year. But rather than indicate disinterest in the topic, the results may suggest a desire for the issue to be put on a back burner during a time of unified Republican control of Washington.

“It may be that the decline among Democrats is due to not wanting this president and this Congress to deal with immigration,” said Jocelyn Kiley, Pew’s associate director of political research.

Overall, Democrats were far more concerned than Republicans about environmental issues, taking care of the poor and needy and addressing race relations, the poll found.

But several issues were of interest to all Americans, regardless of party. More than three-quarters of Americans said defending against terrorism was a top priority, a view that has not changed over the last eight years. Predictably, it has been a strong interest since the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

More than 7 in 10 — 73% — want Trump to work on strengthening the economy. But that number actually has fallen 12 points since Obama took office, a reflection of widespread improvements in the economy and jobs market over his tenure.

The poll questioned 1,502 adults Jan. 4-9. The margin of error is 2.9 points in either direction, with a larger margin for sub-samples.

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