The Issue Environment

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that there are a lot more people worrying about the economy than there were a year ago.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that there are a lot more people worrying about the economy than there were a year ago. A Pew Research Center national survey conducted in the second week of January showed that the number of Americans who picked the issue as a top priority increased a full 10 percent from 75 to 85 percent in the last year. The number of Americans who picked jobs as a top priority mushroomed by 21 points from 61 to 82 percent.Since people can only worry about so many problems at once, something had to give. And the issue that gave was the environment. In the last year according to Pew Research Center surveys, the number of Americans choosing the environment as their top priority dropped from 56 percent to 41 percent. To add insult to injury, the problem at the very bottom of the issue pecking order was global warming at 30 percent. (Even though the amount of ice in the Arctic decreased from 2.6 million square miles down to 1.8 million square miles during the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency). People who own seafront property will soon own ocean property in the strict sense of the word.But environmentalists take heart, it is likely that the issue will continue to weigh heavily on the minds of White House policy makers this year even though the Obama policy team is focused on jobs. Al Gore and his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” have not mobilized public opinion but the former vice president did make a dent on the minds of the masters and mistresses of the media.Global warming is an issue that the media covers well even though it is not an issue of great concern to the public.Back in October, NBC had a green week when the network’s shows from “30 Rock” to the “Nightly News with Brian Williams” had environmental themes. New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman has been beating the drum for green jobs to make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. I am still waiting, but not holding my breath, to see if the Fox News Channel jumps on the environmental bandwagon.The environment in general and global warming in particular is an example of the way the media goes way beyond the reporting function to set a policy agenda in Washington D.C. The media, by reporting on and investigating global warming, is trying to take the problem off the back burner and put it on the front burner for people and policy makers.Because of the media interest in the environment, the Obama economic stimulus program includes funding for green jobs. And watch for the Obama administration to address environmental problems more aggressively even at the height of the national economic emergency.Bannon is the president of Bannon Communications Research, a political consulting and polling firm for Democratic candidates, labor unions and progressive issue groups.

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