There are many polarizing discussion topics with the potential to ignite a feud with friends and family, but the latest polling shows Great Lakes basin residents can unite over the importance and value of government and individual actions to protect our shared waters.
The IJC Great Lakes Water Quality Board concluded its third Great Lakes Regional Poll in 2021 and hosted a December 9 webinar to summarize the latest results.
The 2021 Great Lakes Regional Poll results provide a snapshot of residents' views on topics including the importance of protecting the Great Lakes’ environmental health and perspectives on the need to protect Great Lakes water quality for leisure and recreation, fish and wildlife, and the economy. The results build on previous regional polling efforts by the board in 2015 and 2018.
“The Water Quality Board conducts public opinion polls because it provides us with compelling data that is relevant to a broad range of decision makers across the Great Lakes region who decide whether or how to implement science-informed policies that affect the Great Lakes,” said Jon Allan, the board’s US co-chair and University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability senior academic and research program officer.
Results that demonstrate residents’ willingness to pay more to protect the lakes are “a clear indication that the improved water quality of the lakes is materially valuable to people, and that they are willing to support what they view is materially valuable,” said Allan.
The board conducted two polls in 2021: a random sample poll gathered responses from 4,550 residents within the Great Lakes basin by cell or landline phone, and an anecdotal poll collected responses from 4,674 individuals through an online survey on the board’s website.
To enhance equity in representation in the phone poll, the board set a cohort quota of 500 responses from individuals that self-identified as First Nations, Métis and Tribal Nation members. This works out to around 10 percent of total responses. In the online poll, 25 percent of responses were individuals that self-identified as Indigenous.
Targeting minimum responses from First Nations, Métis and Tribal Nation members adds to the value of the board’s Great Lakes Regional Poll because the survey is “among the only environmental polls to have an adequate sample of Indigenous responses to enable comparisons in results,” said Kelsey Leonard, board member and University of Waterloo assistant professor in the Faculty of Environment.
“Compared to nearly 60 percent of overall residents, First Nations, Métis and Tribal Nation members were nearly unanimous, with 90 percent and above responding that individuals or individual households are important for protecting the health and water quality of the Great Lakes basin,” said Leonard.
Slide from the December 9, 2021, Water Quality Board webinar about the results of its 2021 Great Lakes Regional Poll. Credit: IJC
For the first time, the 2021 phone poll also set a cohort quota of 100 responses from individuals residing full- or part-time on a Great Lakes island.
Seventy-one percent of island residents reported using the Great Lakes for leisure or recreation, compared to less than half (46 percent) of overall Great Lakes residents.
“It’s remarkable that an overwhelming nine in 10 Great Lakes residents believe that it is important that the Great Lakes are available for leisure or recreational uses … (and) similarly, 83 percent of Great Lakes residents said they feel it is important to protect the Great Lakes’ water quality for the benefit of the fish and wildlife who depend on the lakes,” said Mark Mattson, Great Lakes Water Quality Board member, and president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Swim Drink Fish Canada.
“Looking at questions that we asked in the 2015, 2018 and 2021 polls, there is a clear trend that Great Lakes residents overwhelmingly, and increasingly, have care, concern and curiosity for the Great Lakes’ water quality,” said Mattson.
More than 4 in 5 GreatLakes residents (83%) agree the lakes’ water quality should be protected to benefit fish and wildlife, according to the IJC Water Quality Board’s 2021 Great Lakes Regional Poll. Credit: IJC/Turnstone Strategies
The complete results of the 2021 phone and online polls are in reports posted on the Water Quality Board’s website.
“For now, the poll results alone cannot explain the ‘because’ behind these public opinions,” said Leonard. The board plans to conduct further analysis of the results in 2022, using methods such as focus groups to explore the findings and implications behind the poll numbers.
Allison Voglesong Zejnati is public affairs specialist at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.