June 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB4
Public Opinion and Lake Erie Water Quality
Lake Erie recreational resource users were surveyed at the Mid-America Boat Show in Cleveland, Ohio over a three year period. Respondents in 1992 were significantly (p<.05) more inclined than respondents in 1990 or 1991 to have a negative impression of agriculture and its impact on Lake Erie. Most respondents viewed Lake Erie as a resource worthy of protection and agreed that government should do more to control pollution in Lake Erie. Results suggest that Extension needs to address the issue of agricultural impacts on the environment more vigorously than in the past, particularly with recreational resource-user groups.
Public opinion influences the allocation of scarce resources. Knowledge of public attitudes concerning agriculture and the environment is important if Extension workers and administrators are to understand some of the potential problems that public perceptions may cause agriculture.
Patrons of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 Mid-America Boat Shows in Cleveland, Ohio and the 1991 Fairport Fishing Symposium in Mentor, Ohio were asked about their attitudes related to Lake Erie issues. The typical respondent was a married male 43-45 years old; employed in professional, highly skilled, or managerial positions; with household income in excess of $30,000; and a family size of 2.8. Almost eight of ten respondents were boat owners.
A stratified random sample of 600 of the 178,000 people attending the 1990 Mid-America Boat Show in January were surveyed by mail using Dillman's method (Dillman, 1978). In 1991 and 1992, patrons of the Mid-America Boat Show randomly passing the Ohio Sea Grant exhibit were asked to complete a survey to assess potential changes in opinions. In 1991, a sample of people from among the 10,000 attending the Fairport Fishing Symposium were also asked to complete the same survey. Their responses were combined with the 1991 Boat Show data. A total of 509 people in 1990, 1086 people in 1991, and 704 people in 1992, responded to the surveys. Those numbers represent about 85%, 70%, and 75% of the people who were asked to respond in 1990, 1991, and 1992, respectively. Respondents were asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with 14 issue statements on a completely anchored five-point scale. The surveys provided data from a large cross-section of Lake Erie resource users over a three-year period.
The percentage of respondents who strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, "Agriculture pollutes Lake Erie as much as industry does," increased from 48% in 1990, to 53% in 1991, to 63% in 1992. Respondents in 1992 were significantly (p<.05) more inclined than the 1990 or 1991 respondents to have a negative perception of agriculture and its impact on Lake Erie. Boat owners were significantly (p<.05) more inclined than non-owners to have a negative impression of agriculture and its impact on Lake Erie. Members of boat, civic, environmental or sport angling clubs were significantly (p<.05) more inclined than non- members to have a negative impression of agriculture and its impact on Lake Erie. People who boat and fish on Lake Erie have a positive perception of it. Nine out of ten respondents in all the surveys agreed or strongly agreed, "Government should be doing more to control pollution in Lake Erie." Most respondents view Lake Erie as a valuable resource worthy of protection.
This trend of viewing agriculture as a water polluter should be of concern to the agriculture industry and Extension. Efforts to clean up Lake Erie and other surface waters may conflict with current agricultural practices. Resource user groups, if politically active, may have a substantial impact on the regulations developed to reduce agricultural impacts on our waterways. Results suggest Extension needs to address the issue of agricultural impacts on the environment more vigorously than in the past, particularly with nontraditional resource-user groups.
Dillman, D. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method. New York: John Wiley & Sons.