Other questions produce an equivocal assessment of environmental commitment. On the one hand, few people -- only about one in 10 -- say they base their decisions where to shop or what to buy on the basis of the store or manufacturer's environmental policies. At the same time, majorities support local laws requiring a range of conservation measures including recycling, use of water-saving devices and use of energy-efficient light bulbs.
In terms of specific actions:
HEAT/AC: About a quarter of Americans, 26 percent, say they currently keep their home a little warmer in the summer or cooler in the winter than they'd like it to be. But vastly more -- 67 percent -- say they'd be willing to do that to help improve the environment.
GROCERY BAGS: There's extremely broad support for a law requiring supermarkets to use shopping bags made of paper or other recyclable material, a step pioneered (in this country) by San Francisco last month. Eighty-two percent would favor such a law in their own area.
RECYCLING: While just 20 percent say recycling currently is required by law in their area, 75 percent say they recycle some trash anyway (similar to the levels reported in polls in 1997 and 2000). And significantly, where recycling is not required now, three-quarters (74 percent) say they'd support a local law making it mandatory.
WATER: Nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) report having either a low-flow shower head or low-volume toilet in their home. And again, majorities support requiring these. Seventy-one percent say they support requiring newly installed toilets to be the low-flow variety; fewer, but still 59 percent, support mandating low-flow shower heads. (Indeed, a 1992 federal law requires manufacture of low-flow toilets and shower heads; a variety of local laws also are in place.)
BULBS: Again a substantial majority, 70 percent, say they use at least some compact fluorescent light bulbs in their home. (These last longer and use less energy, but cost more than regular light bulbs.) Fifty-six percent support laws requiring such bulbs -- much lower than support for laws requiring recyclable shopping bags or trash recycling, but still a majority.
TIRES: Among those who have a car, two-thirds (68 percent) say they or someone else has checked their tire pressure within the last month. While that's a sizable majority, it means one in three have not checked their tire pressure recently. (And some of those who do check may be just eyeballing it, rather than using a tire pressure gauge.) It makes a difference: Properly inflated tires improve gas mileage.
In one notable demographic difference, Republicans are much less likely to be "very willing" to change their personal behavior -- 36 percent, compared with 51 percent of independents and 59 percent of Democrats. Willingness to change peaks among liberals, and it's 10 points higher among women than among men.
Support for local laws also relies to some extent on political affiliation and ideology. But three measures get majority support across the spectrum -- from liberals, moderates and conservatives; and Democrats, independents and Republicans alike: Mandatory recyclable shopping bags, mandatory recycling and mandatory low-flow toilets in new installations.
Support for mandatory low-flow shower heads and compact fluorescent light bulbs slips under half among conservatives, and drops to about four in 10 Republicans, but maintains majorities in other groups.