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Floridians show bipartisan support for environmental policy issues, USF survey finds

Participants across the political spectrum support carbon taxes, reforestation and wildlife preservation.
Environmental protections are “a very bipartisan issue in a very partisan moment,” said Stephen Neely of USF.
Environmental protections are “a very bipartisan issue in a very partisan moment,” said Stephen Neely of USF. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published Aug. 12

The majority of Floridians — regardless of political affiliation — support widespread environmental reform, according to a survey conducted by the University of South Florida.

Nearly two-thirds of sampled residents agreed that Florida needs more government action to protect the environment. Most also favored policies advocating for carbon taxes, reforestation and stricter regulations on agricultural fertilizers. The complete results can be found at usf.edu.

“This is a very bipartisan issue in a very partisan moment,” said Stephen Neely, the USF associate professor who created the survey. “Across the board, there’s a sense that the state can and should do more. Considering how polarized the country is right now, that is a breath of fresh air.”

Neely and his colleague Joshua M. Scacco distributed the survey to 600 Floridians from July 15 to 25. The sample size allowed for a 95 percent confidence level in the results, Neely said.

Like prior annual surveys, participants weighed in on education and public policy. This is the first time Floridians fielded questions on conservation. The addition was prompted by Neely’s personal interest — and the growing relevance of environmental issues.

The state population increased by around 2.7 million people, or 15 percent, between 2010 and 2020, bringing a surge in development, Neely said.

“That has an effect on natural habitats, ecosystems and endangered speciese,” h said. “It affects the quality of our air and water.”

Turns out, Floridians care.

Almost 90 percent of respondents are behind tree planting, and 76 percent support taxes to lessen carbon emissions.

Eighty-five percent of people believe Florida should allocate more funding to protect endangered species like Florida panthers and manatees. And a similar percentage favor curtailing agricultural fertilizers, which have been linked to worsening Red Tide blooms.

Florida is one of 11 states that won’t allow local governments to ban single-use plastics. But a slight majority of residents — 56 percent — believe cities should have the right to prohibit plastic straws and foam take-out containers.

Nearly nine in ten participants also thought positively of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, legislation that reserved $400 million for wildlife and ecosystem preservation earlier this year.

Rene W. Brown, a founding board member of the Tampa Bay Conservancy, said Floridians have backed environmental protections for decades. The USF survey places responsibility on government officials to act in line with public opinion, she said.

“People care about the environment and want to see it protected,” Brown said. “For elected officials, I hope that reinforces that it is not a small, isolated portion of the population devoted to these issues.”

This spring, Neely plans to distribute another public policy survey with a breakout section focused on climate change.

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“Bottom line, people want more to be done,” he said.