Public views on economic growth, the environment and prosperity: Results of a questionnaire survey

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The long-standing academic and public debate on economic growth, prosperity and environmental sustainability has recently gained new momentum. It lacks, however, a broad perspective on public opinion. Prior opinion surveys typically offered a simple dichotomous choice between growth and environmental protection. This study examines public beliefs and attitudes about a wider range of aspects of the growth debate. To this end, we conducted an online questionnaire survey including a country-wide, representative sample of 1008 Spanish citizens. Using factor analysis, we identify six distinct dimensions of public attitudes, referred to as: prosperity with growth; environmental limits to growth; general optimism; wrong priority; overrated GDP; and governmental control. We further analyze several specific questions associated with the growth debate, such as those concerning the desired GDP growth rate, the preferred growth-environment position, and beliefs about, as well as reasons for, a possible end or continuation of growth. We find that most respondents favor GDP growth rates of more than 3%. A majority views growth and environmental sustainability as compatible (green growth), while about one-third prefers either ignoring growth as a policy aim (agrowth), or stopping it altogether (degrowth). Only very few people want growth unconditionally (growth-at-all-costs). About one-third of the respondents believe that growth may be never-ending. We examine how support for or disagreement with different statements on growth are related to each other, as well as how they are influenced by socio-demographic, knowledge and ideology/values variables. Overall, our findings can inform public debates about the growth paradigm and its potential alternatives by providing a more nuanced understanding of public opinion. We make suggestions for future research, including modifying poll questions on growth and environment through offering a more diverse set of response options.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue numberJuly
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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