Survey: More Americans fear for environment, health care

American Fears-11102017-0001
The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017) provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. In May of 2017, a random sample of 1,207 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about eighty different fears across a huge variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, the environment, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others.

The Paris Accord pullout.  Proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Fights over the Affordable Care Act.

Americans are growing more fearful about environmental and health-care issues, according to a survey by Chapman University in California.  For the first time in the four years of the survey, environmental fears have not only crept up the list but occupy four of the top 10 spots.

Camera icon Chapman University
The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017) provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. In May 2017, a random sample of 1,207 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about 80 different fears across a variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, the environment, and disasters to personal anxieties, technology and many others.

“It’s funny, it’s one of those things you find surprising until you look at it,” says Chris Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman and one of the principal authors of the survey.

Bader says he believes Americans have grown more fearful regarding numerous issues. But he cautions that the randomized survey of 1,200 adults from a range of states and demographics was administered in May. At the time, President Trump was threatening to pull the United States out of the Paris Accord and proposing to slash the the EPA’s budget by a third, and Congress was locking horns over the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Bader said that if the survey was administered today, it might have mass shootings and gun control near the top.  Or, he said, people might be driven by fears of wildfires.  A California resident, he had to evacuate this week.

Fear of government corruption, however, seems to appear locked in, year after year for Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

In past years, he noted, environmental issues didn’t even crack the top 20.  So to see pollution of waterways, drinking water and air — as well as climate change — take up four of the top 10 spots could indicate a zeitgeist of environmental concern.

“The thing that’s really interesting for us is to see next year if those environmental concerns drop down again into the 20s or 30s, which is where they were before,” Bader said.  “We certainly have also seen generally a change in the list based on the Trump presidency, in terms of health care and the discussion of trying to get rid of Obamacare.”

Bader said he and two other professors, all criminologists, started the survey in 2013, hoping to conduct it scientifically in order to get a baseline of fears over the years.  Essentially, they could see which fears linger for years and which ones are simply driven by the news cycle at the time the survey is conducted.

They believed that many fears of Americans were focused on sensational crimes and events that, while terrible, were nonetheless driving public policy without data as a guide.

“We were seeing fears about strangers’ kidnapping children, mass shootings,  and other crimes — they are exceedingly rare, but when they happen they are all over the news. Americans just have wild misperceptions about how common these crimes are,” he said.

More worrisome, he said, is that fears of terrorism lead to bias or worse.

“We are finding American fears, especially on terrorism, are associated with a distrust of Muslims.  We find they are willing to restrict rights for all Americans, and in particular Muslims.  In turn, that drives how people vote.”

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments