New Poll: Great Lakes Restoration Supported by Huge Majority of Voters across Political Spectrum

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ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 31, 2016) – A new 8-state, Great Lakes regional opinion survey finds overwhelming support for continuing the federal government’s efforts to improve the health of the Great Lakes. More than eight in ten residents – 86 percent – approve of the government spending over $300 million a year to clean up toxic waste and bacteria, reduce run-off pollution from cities and farms, and protect and rebuild wetlands.  More than six in ten residents – 63 percent – strongly support continued funding.  Only 9 percent want to reduce federal funds for this purpose.

The poll was commissioned by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

In this era of intense political party polarization, support for funding Great Lakes restoration transcends party politics, according to the poll, as majorities of Democrats (92 percent), Republicans (80 percent), and independents (88 percent) want the federal government to invest in Great Lakes restoration.

“The most remarkable finding in this survey is the unusual consensus among Democrats, Republicans, and independents on an issue regarding federal spending – they all agree that the government should spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year to keep the Great Lakes healthy,” said John Russonello, partner with Belden Russonello Strategists, a Washington, D.C.-based firm which conducted the poll.

The poll was conducted by telephone, February 5-18, 2016, using landlines and cell phones. The sample size was 1,535 adults in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York (excluding the New York City metropolitan area), and Pennsylvania (Erie County, only). The data were weighted by age to reflect the population of the region. The margin of sampling error is ±2.5 percentage points.

Other highlights of the poll include:


  1. Residents are concerned about a number of threats to the Great Lakes. Prompted with a series of threats to the Great Lakes, residents express high levels of concern about all of them. “Bacteria from untreated sewage” (53 percent “very concerned,” 28 percent “somewhat concerned”) and “toxic pollutants such as mercury” (50 percent “very,” 29 percent “somewhat”) generate the most concern, followed by “invasive species like Asian Carp” (44 percent “very,” 32 percent “somewhat”).


  1. Flint’s and Toledo’s drinking water problems reinforce need for continued restoration funding with the public. There are many reasons cited by the public as motivators for continued Great Lakes restoration funding. Messages focused on drinking water and public health are somewhat more persuasive than those focused on the economic importance of the Lakes. Two very convincing reasons to maintain federal investments in the Great Lakes are the recent lead contamination in drinking water in Flint, Mich., and the harmful algal bloom that fouled water in Toledo, Ohio, (55 percent, and 51 percent respectively).


  1. People think restoration investments are a good use of federal dollars. At least seven in ten people view as “excellent” or “good” uses of federal tax dollars the cleanup of “toxic contamination such as mercury from the mouth of the Ashtabula River” (44 percent “excellent,” 37 percent “good”); the restoration of “a native dune habitat at a Lake Michigan beach north of Chicago” (32 percent “excellent,” 44 percent “good”); and removal of “concrete along the banks of the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee, Wisconsin” (28 percent “excellent,” 43 percent “good”).


  1. Great Lakes restoration could become a voting issue in the region. Majorities of registered voters in the region say they would be less likely to vote for a congressional candidate (58 percent) or a Presidential candidate (53 percent) who intended to cut funding for Great Lakes restoration.


  1. Support for Great Lakes restoration has grown since the last poll conducted by the Coalition in 2011. At that time, 75 percent of people in the region supporting continued funding for the Great Lakes and 24 percent favored of reducing funding.


“The poll is a strong affirmation of how important the Great Lakes are to people, especially the 30 million who rely on the Lakes as their drinking water source,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “There is no reason for public officials to delay or reduce federal support for Great Lakes restoration efforts that are producing results in communities across the region. Congress should continue funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million a year, fully authorize the program by passing the GLRI Act and increase investments in water infrastructure improvements.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 130 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at or follow us on twitter @healthylakes.

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