Animal Tracker 2017: Methods & Overview
Before founding Faunalytics, I worked at Microsoft. One of my main projects was what we called the “dev tracker” – a quarterly survey of developers about their usage and attitudes regarding the company’s products. It produced some of the most valuable information for both product managers and developers. It was also the reason I knew that we needed a similar tracking study for the animal advocacy movement.
The Faunalytics Animal Tracker is an annual survey of U.S. adults’ attitudes and behavior with respect to animals and animal advocates. It is the only longitudinal survey dedicated to animal protection issues. The first survey was conducted in 2008 and included 15 core questions. A subset of five questions has been asked every year since, which means that we collect new data for each question every three years.
This year we are again presenting the Animal Tracker results in a series of blogs. This first blog provides the background and methodology of the ongoing study and a brief overview of the latest results. In the forthcoming blogs, we will explore each of the key topics covered in the 2017 survey. You can also explore the past Animal Tracker results by reading our blog series from last year, browsing past reports, or accessing our graphing tool.
How important is it that schools and teachers (Kindergarten-12 and college level) incorporate humane education, including animal welfare topics, into their lessons?
Following is a summary of results from the 2017 survey. Future blogs in this series will explore each of these topics in more detail, including trends and demographics differences.
Behavior, Past Year – Respondents were asked which of a list of nine animal-related activities they have participated in during the past year, if any. The most common behaviors include watching wildlife (38% of U.S. adults engaged in this behavior in the past year), consuming a meat or dairy substitute (31%), and visiting a zoo or aquarium (27%). All other actions were selected by less than one in seven respondents: 15% say they hunted or fished; 13% donated to an animal group; 8% adopted an animal, 5% purchased an animal; 3% went to a circus with animals, and 3% volunteered for an animal group.
Behavior, Past Year (Frequency) – If respondents answered “yes” to the previous question, they were asked the frequency with which they had engaged in the behavior (resulting in much smaller sub-samples). Given the diverse nature of the activities described, they do not warrant comparison, but do provide interesting benchmarks for each behavior. In summary, very large majorities of respondents who have done so at least once in the past year say they often/sometimes consume meat or dairy substitutes (84%) and watch wildlife (83%). Small minorities of people who have done so at least once in the past year say they often/sometimes adopted an animal (6%), purchased an animal (6%), or went to circuses (4%). The other activities fall in between these extremes.
Behavior, All-Time – When asked if their concern for animals had “ever” prompted certain actions, “spay or neuter your pet” received the largest response (52%). The least commonly noted behaviors were to “boycott a store or a product” (13%) or vote for an animal-friendly candidate (13%), closely followed by buying meat/dairy products labeled “humane” (16%). Other actions included: bought products labeled “not tested on animals” (33%), adopted an animal from a shelter (33%), signed a petition for animals (22%), and voted for an animal-friendly law (25%). Note that this question also yielded large “do not know” responses (4%-17% depending on the specific behavior).
Humane Education – Regarding humane education, U.S. adults are very supportive of incorporating animal topics into educational curricula at Kindergarten-12th grade and college levels. Overall, about three in four survey respondents (75%) say doing so is important, including 33% of adults who say “very” important and another 42% who say “somewhat” important. About one in eight respondents (13%) say that incorporating humane education is “not very important,” while 6% say it is “not at all important” and 5% say they do not know.
Advocacy Tactics – For all tactics listed in the survey, more U.S. adults support the tactic than oppose it. Two advocacy tactics received clear and strong majority support: 75% support anti-cruelty investigations and 73% support using the media to reach the public. There was also clear support for other tactics: 63% support speaking in schools; 58% support state ballot initiatives, 58% support filing lawsuits to protect animals, and 54% support lobbying government officials. Substantial proportions of U.S. adults also support calling for product boycotts (49% support, 23% oppose) and demonstrating and protesting (44% support, 32% oppose). This question had very high combined “do not know” and “no opinion” rates of 18-30%, with the most ambivalence (or lack of knowledge) surrounding ballot initiatives, product boycotts, lobbying, and protesting
The initial Animal Tracker survey was completed in June 2008 and included a larger sample size (N=1,500) for the purposes of baseline analysis. Subsequent surveys have been completed annually since then, with each year asking a subset of questions. The samples after year one have all included at least 1,000 U.S. adults, with an error margin ranging from +/- 2.8% to +/- 3.1%. The 2017 survey was fielded from March 31st through April 4th.
The 2017 sample included 1,004 respondents (response rate: 31%). The actual number is slightly lower for most questions due to refusals, which were less than 3% in all cases. The results have been weighted using a variable provided by the data collection company. This is to account for differences between survey respondents and the population being studied, in this case all non-institutionalized adults (ages ≥ 18) currently living in the U.S. The answer options were randomized for all survey questions except those that present answers in a logical order.
All years of the Animal Tracker survey have been fielded using the GfK/Knowledge Networks panel, which combines offline, address-based sampling with online panel research capabilities. This results in a true probability sample and survey data that are much more accurate than most other online surveys.
It should be noted that the results are subject to several limitations, including issues with self-reporting. Respondents’ answers may differ from their actual opinions or behavior, particularly for sensitive questions or those involving intentions or predictions of the future. Interpretation of some terms may also vary from respondent to respondent. Another limitation is nonresponse bias; it is possible that non-respondents have different opinions and behavior than survey respondents.
Lastly, we should also note that the Animal Tracker is subject to design limitations. When originally designing the survey in 2007, we intentionally chose to use multi-part (“grid”) questions to cover as many topics as possible in the limited space available. However, this does not always produce the most accurate results. In the past ten years, we have also learned more about question design and would make changes if starting anew. However, much of the value of the Animal Tracker is in measuring changes over time, which requires consistency in question language.
The Animal Tracker is generously supported by our partner organizations, most recently including Alley Cat Allies, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Trust, Best Friends Animal Society, EJF Philanthropies, Maddie’s Fund, Tigers in America, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Summerlee Foundation.
Tentatively, year eleven of the Animal Tracker will be fielded in the first quarter of 2018 and will cover topics including: opinions of the animal protection movement compared to other social movements; credibility of various sources of information about animal welfare; level of discussion of animal topics; importance of animal protection for various issues; and perceived adequacy of animal-related laws.
The benefits of sponsorship include receiving first access to detailed survey results (including “cross-tab” data for all demographic segments) and permission to use the survey results with the media, in publications, etc. To learn about sponsorship and how to add your own questions, please contact us.