Written by Linda Tyler / Faunalytics
The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated – Mahatma Gandhi
Anyone who studies animal issues recognizes that there is a disparity between people’s attitudes on the one hand and behavior toward non-human animals on the other. People also have widely varying levels of concern for different animals and different circumstances. For twelve years, animal advocates have relied on the Faunalytics Animal Tracker survey to understand those differences more deeply and follow how they’re changing over time.
For the 2019 Animal Tracker, recent posts have covered attitudes toward the animal movement’s impact and goals (along with overall survey results and methods) and explored the question focused on self-reported knowledge. In this post we take a closer look at how important animal protection is to U.S. adults when it comes to certain animal-related behaviors. Following is the actual question that we ask every three years, most recently in April 2019:
How important to you is the protection of animals when it comes to making the following personal choices?
Scale: Very Important; Somewhat Important; Not Very Important; Not at All Important; Do Not Know
- Attending circuses or rodeos
- Buying clothing
- Buying food (i.e., meat, eggs, dairy)
- Buying consumer products
- Getting a new pet
- Going hunting or fishing
- Going to dog or horse races
- Voting for a political candidate
This question is useful for a variety of reasons, including gaining an overall understanding of how important people think it is to protect different types of animals during various activities. It’s also useful to look at differences by demographic subgroup (see below). On the other hand, the usefulness of this question is limited by several factors. Most notably, the respondents are a mix of people who actually engage in these behaviors and those who do not.
Complicating things further, some of the behaviors are very “high-incidence,” meaning that a lot of people engage in them (e.g., buying meat, dairy, or eggs) while others are relatively rare or “low-incidence” (e.g., attending circuses). That limitation adds to the general caveats of the survey, which include self-reporting, social desirability biases, and nonresponse bias.
With those caveats aside, the 2019 results are consistent with past results. They show that, in the minds of U.S. adults, not all animals deserve the same degree of protection, or even the same type of animals in different situations. For example, while 80% of the respondents believe it is very or somewhat important to protect animals when buying a new pet, only 46% believe the same when going to dog or horse races—meaning that almost twice as many people believe dogs deserve protection when they are pets than when they are racers.
After pets, the next three highest levels of importance ratings were found in relation to protecting animals when buying animal-based food (72%), buying consumer products (64%), and buying clothing (59%). For all of the remaining activities, only about half of the respondents said they believed in the importance of protecting animals: going hunting or fishing (56%), voting for a political candidate (56%), attending circuses or rodeos (53%), and going to dog or horse races (46%).
In the following sections, we explore demographic differences in these reports of importance. We also take a look at trends by comparing our latest results with past years of the Animal Tracker, going back to 2008. The complete details for all years and demographic groups will be released along with the next and last blog in this series. We will also be updating our graphing tool with 2019 data and releasing the full dataset combining twelve years Animal Tracker results for others to analyze.
Below we focus on just the most recent Animal Tracker results (from April 2019) and differences by gender, age, level of formal education, ethnicity, geographic region, and whether or not people have companion animals in the household.
Gender: Protecting animals is more important to women than to men – this is true for every behavior covered in the Animal Tracker survey. The gender disparity is greatest when it comes to going to dog/horse races and attending circuses/rodeos. Around 6 in 10 women (57%-61%) say protecting animals is “very” or “somewhat” important when engaging in these behaviors, compared to fewer than half (36%-45%) of men. There are also smaller but significant gender differences when it comes to buying consumer products (71% of women vs. 57% of men), buying clothing (65% vs. 52%), buying food 78% vs. 65%), and getting a new pet (85% vs. 75%).
Age: When it comes to age, there are a few significant differences among Animal Tracker respondents. First, concerning dog/horse races, 48% of 18-29-year-olds considered animal protection important vs. 40% of adults aged 60+. And for attending circuses/rodeos, the respective levels were 57% for 18-29-year-olds vs. 46% for 60+-year-olds. Both of these differences suggest that younger people may be more concerned about animal protection than older people. However, at the same time, 18-29-year-olds are less likely to place importance on animal protection when buying food (66% vs. all other groups above 70%) and 30-44-year-olds are less likely to think protecting animals is important when getting a new pet (72% vs. all other groups above 80%). Other age-related differences fall within the survey’s error margin.
Education: There are few significant differences when it comes to one’s level of formal education and belief in the importance of protecting animals. While the differences are small, there is some indication that those with the least and the most education rate animal protection the highest. For those with less than a high school education, the proportion who say protecting animals is very/somewhat important averages 60% across all of the behaviors presented, and for those with a Bachelor’s degree or more, the average proportion is 62%. For those with a high school education the average is 58%, and for those with some college it is 55%.
Ethnicity: Examining differences by race or ethnicity is subject to higher error margins given that some ethnic subgroups are relatively small. With that caveat, there are only a few meaningful differences when it comes to ethnicity. Most notably, Black respondents report that animal protection is significantly less important to them when it comes to getting a new pet, attending circuses/rodeos, going to dog/horse races, and going hunting/fishing. Using getting a new pet as an example, while 86% of White people and 72% of Latino/Hispanic respondents say animal protection is important, this was true of just 63% of Black respondents. On the other hand, Black respondents report significantly higher importance of animal protection when it comes to buying food and consumer products. Hispanic/Latino respondents’ reports of importance were also lower than White respondents’ when getting a new pet, going hunting/fishing, and going to dog/horse races. However, Hispanic/Latino people expressed more importance than the two other groups in the area of buying clothing. White people are the majority of the U.S. population and also the majority of survey respondents; their importance ratings closely match the overall U.S. population.
Region: For many of the activities, where one lives in the country appears to have little influence on one’s belief in the importance of animal protection. However, for two activities, those in the West attributed less importance to animal protection than the overall average: attending circuses/rodeos (47% in the West vs. 53% overall) and going to dog/horse races (41% in the West vs. 46% overall). For two other activities, those in the Northeast attributed less importance than the overall average: buying food (65% in the Northeast vs. 72% overall) and going hunting/fishing (52% in the Northeast vs. 56% overall).
Companion Animals in Household: In our last post discussing knowledge of animal issues, those with companion animals reported being much more knowledgeable than those without companion animals on a variety of topics. The same is true of the importance of animal protection. The largest differences are found in relation to going hunting/fishing (61% of those with a companion animal consider animal protection important vs. 47% of those without a companion animal), getting a new pet (84% vs. 73%), and going to dog/horse races (50% to 40%).
The Animal Tracker importance question has been asked five times, most recently in 2019, but also in 2016, 2013, 2010, and 2008.
Overall, the importance ratings for most of the behaviors went down in 2019 compared with 2016, in two cases to their lowest point ever. Over the long term from 2008, beliefs about the importance of animal protection seems to have peaked in 2013. Levels of importance declined from there in 2016, and, with only a couple of exceptions, the levels went down further in 2019.
Because these questions are skipped by people who say they never make these choices, we examined whether the number of respondents has changed over the years of the survey. In general, the percentage of people answering each question was slightly higher in 2019 than in previous years, but the differences were not large so the years can be compared without much difficulty of interpretation.
Attending Circuses or Rodeos: Belief in the importance of protecting animals when going to a circus or rodeo decreased by 7% from 2016’s level. Those saying the protection of these animals is very/somewhat important was 56% in 2008 and 2010, increased to 63% in 2013, declined slightly to 60% in 2016, and declined more significantly to 53% in 2019.
Buying Clothing: There has been no long-term change in the importance of protecting animals when buying clothes. While there were modest upticks for this question in 2010 and 2013, the level of importance declined in 2016, and bounced back in 2019 to 2010 levels (59% saying it was very/somewhat important).
Buying Food (i.e., meat, eggs, dairy): From 2008 to 2013, those saying it is very/somewhat important to protect animals when buying food increased significantly from 67% to 75%. More recent trends are less clear, however, and levels have stagnated in 2016 and 2019 (73% and 72%, respectively).
Buying Consumer Products: There was a slight decrease from 2016 to 2019 in the proportion of people saying it is important to protect animals when buying consumer products, from 67% to 64%. The difference is inside the margin of error, however, and the overall trend (since 2008) shows little change.
Getting a New Pet: In the early Animal Tracker years, from 2008 to 2010, the proportion of respondents saying it is important to protect animals when getting a new pet increased significantly, from 76% to 86%. However, the number was unchanged in 2013 and declined slightly (by 3%) in 2016 and another 3% (to 80%) in 2019.
Going Hunting or Fishing: The long-term trend from 2008 to 2016 showed an overall increase in the perceived importance of protecting animals when going hunting/fishing, but this level dropped in 2019. The importance rating went from a low of 55% saying very/somewhat important in 2008 to a high of 66% in 2013. This proportion then declined significantly, dropping by 5% to a level of 61% in 2016 and again in 2019 to 56%, a return to 2008 levels.
Going to Dog or Horse Races: The long-term trend indicates an increase in the perceived importance of protecting animals when going to dog or horse races that peaked in 2013 followed by recent decreases in 2016 and 2019. This level went from a low of 47% saying very/somewhat important in 2008 to a high of 59% in 2013. This proportion dropped by 4% in 2016 and another 9% in 2019, to 46%, its lowest level in all the years of the survey.
Voting for a Political Candidate: This behavior shows a long-term trend of declining importance. Those saying animal protection is very/somewhat important when voting for a political candidate was highest in 2013 at 61%. The 7% drop in 2016 (a presidential voting year in the United States) is especially noteworthy, and 2019 saw the level stay about the same as 2016 (56%).
Linda Tyler is a plant-based cooking workshop leader, recipe-curator, researcher, and writer–with a day job in educational assessment. She is especially interested in learning all she can from research about the psychology of food preferences and choices so that she can help vegan cooks succeed at making plant-based dishes that meat-eaters will eat and enjoy. Her website is graciousvegan.com. She and her husband and cat live in Portland, OR.