Animal Tracker 2018: Adequacy Of Laws
Bringing about legislative change is an important part of improving animal welfare. Public sentiment can have a major impact on lawmakers’ decisions. By taking advantage of positive changes in public views the right proposal at the right political moment can have far-reaching consequences for animals. For over 10 years, animal advocates have relied on the Faunalytics Animal Tracker survey to understand changing perceptions of the adequacy of laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment.
Previous blogs covering the 2018 Animal Tracker have described the [link] methodology and overall results, examined opinions of various social causes and political movements, looked at the credibility of different sources of information about animal welfare, and covered the perceived importance of animal protection in different situations. Now we turn our attention to people’s perceptions of laws to protect different types of animals.
Following is the question that we ask every three years, most recently in April 2018:
Do you think that laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment are adequate or inadequate for each of the following kinds of animals?
Scale: Adequate; Not Adequate; Don’t Know
- Animals in circuses and rodeos
- Animals in laboratories
- Animals in pounds and shelters
- Animals in zoos and aquariums
- Animals kept as companions/pets
- Animals raised for food
- Endangered species
- Horses and dogs used in racing
- Wildlife on public lands
For all of the types of animals listed above, U.S. adults’ perceptions of animal protection laws became more negative from 2015 to 2018. In fact, for all but two categories (animals in laboratories and horses/dogs used in racing), opinions that current laws are “adequate” are at the lowest levels since the Animal Tracker survey began. The largest change in sentiment from 2015 relates to wildlife on public lands and endangered species (drops of 9% and 8%, respectively, for people believing those laws are adequate).
As in previous years, laws protecting companion animals are considered adequate by the largest percentage of U.S. adults (55%). Next was a cluster of four categories—animals in zoos/aquariums, wildlife on public lands, endangered species, and animals in pounds/shelters—for whom 33-43% of survey respondents consider laws adequate. For the lowest four categories (animals raised for food, horses/dogs used in racing, animals in laboratories, and animals in circuses/rodeos), less than 30% of respondents expressed the view that protection laws are adequate.
Also similar to past years, this question elicited a large proportion of “don’t know” responses, the largest of any question on the Animal Tracker survey. On average across all categories of animals, almost a third (about 30%) of U.S. adults said they do not know if laws to protect animals are adequate or not. This result suggests a greater need for educating people on the inadequacy of current laws for most types of animals.
In the sections that follow, we explore these results in depth by examining demographic differences as well as trends over time, comparing our latest results with past years of the Animal Tracker. 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 2018 data and releasing the full dataset.
Below we focus on just the most recent Animal Tracker results (from April 2018) and differences by gender, age, level of formal education, ethnicity, geographic region, and whether people have companion animals in the household.
Gender: For all categories of animals in the survey, more men than women thought that laws protecting animals are adequate. Differences were highest for animals in laboratories (a 14% difference between men and women), animals raised for food (12%), and animals in circuses/rodeos (11%). The category eliciting the smallest difference was animals kept as companions/pets (4% difference). In all categories, women not only outnumbered men in considering protection laws inadequate, but they also chose “don’t know” in higher numbers.
Age: Generally speaking, the younger someone is, the less likely they are to believe that laws protecting animals are adequate. For all categories of animals except companion animals in homes, respondents age 18-29 were least likely to say that animal protection laws are adequate. This youngest age group also expressed the highest proportion of “don’t know” answers about the adequacy of animal protection laws. Respondents 60 years of age and older expressed the highest levels of “adequate” responses for all types of animals. The animals that elicited the biggest differences by respondents’ age were animals in zoos/aquariums and animals kept as companions/pets, with a 20-22% difference between the oldest (60+) and youngest age (18-29) groups. Animals in laboratories prompted the smallest difference in “adequate” ratings between the oldest and youngest groups (4%).
Education: Similar to the youngest age group in the discussion above, those with less than a high school education conveyed the lowest levels of “adequate” ratings for animal protection laws. People in this group were also the most likely to provide “don’t know” responses across all categories of animal situations. For this question we group respondents into four education levels including: less than a high school degree; high school degree; some college (including associate degree); and bachelor’s degree or higher. The animals that elicited the biggest of differences by respondents’ levels of education were animals in laboratories and wildlife on public lands, with a 21% and 19% spread, respectively, between the education groups with the highest and lowest percentages of “adequate” responses. Animals in circuses/rodeos drew the smallest disparity by level of education, with just a 5% difference.
Ethnicity: As a representative survey, the Animal Tracker canvasses people to closely mirror the demographic profile of the United States. That means that most respondents are white and that the sample sizes for other ethnic groups are very small, which reduced our ability to identify significant differences. If the attitudes expressed by various ethnic groups in this survey are representative, there were no strong patterns across categories of animals as seen with gender, age, and education. The three categories of animals for whom opinions were most divided were animals in laboratories (with a 21% difference between highest and lowest opinions), endangered species (19% difference), and animals in zoos/aquariums (18% difference). Respondents in the “2+ Races” and “Other” categories gave the highest ratings overall. Black respondents consistently selected “don’t know” in all categories more than other ethnic groups.
Region: Regional differences were stronger for this question than for most Animal Tracker questions. For every category of animal, respondents from the Northeast expressed the lowest percentages of “adequate” ratings for animal protection laws and also the highest percentages of “don’t know” indications. In most cases, respondents from the other three regions (Midwest, South, and West) clustered together within the survey’s margin of error. For animals in zoos/aquariums, one region stood out: 49% of respondents from the Midwest expressed the opinion that protection laws were “adequate,” 5-6 percentage points higher than the South and West, respectively, and 13 points higher than the Northeast. For animals used for food, the West stands out with the highest proportion of respondents saying that laws are “not adequate” – 49% compared to 41% in the Northeast, 39% in the Midwest, and 37% in the South.
Companion Animals in Household: The Animal Tracker includes a segment for people who have at least one companion animal (cat, dog, fish, bird, gerbil, reptile, horse, or other) and we compare them with people who do not have any companion animals. Those without a pet in the household were more likely to respond “don’t know” to all categories of animal protection legislation. They were also slightly more likely to indicate that laws were “adequate.” The only category where the difference between “adequate” ratings rose above the survey’s margin of error was endangered species, for whom 37% of those without pets thought laws are adequate, compared to 32% of those with pets.
The Animal Tracker attitude questions have been asked four times, most recently in 2018, but also in 2015, 2012, and 2009. Most of the attitudinal questions included in the Animal Tracker show generally consistent results over time, but in this case the pattern of change is notable. For the first time over the 10 years this question has been asked, perceptions of the adequacy of laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment decreased across the board from their former levels. Compared to three years ago, fewer U.S. adults believe that animals are being adequately protected.
However, the difference between 2015 and 2018 was only significant in a few cases and it was more dramatic for some types of animals than others, as detailed below. The decreases in perceived adequacy of animal protection laws were significant for wildlife on public lands, endangered species, and animals in zoos/aquariums (from -9% to -6%). For all other types of animals, the differences between 2015 and 2018 were within the survey’s margin of error. The long-term changes from 2009 to 2018 are also modest, with most differences falling within the error margin.
Animals in circuses and rodeos: The long-term trend for laws protecting animals in circuses/rodeos has been consistent since 2009, with about a quarter of respondents indicating that protection laws are adequate. From 2015 to 2018 the proportion dropped from 28% to 25%, a difference that falls within the survey’s margin of error.
Animals in laboratories: In 2018, 35% of respondents chose “don’t know” in relation to whether laws were adequate for protecting animals in laboratories. This is comparable to other years, with a peak of 38% in 2009 and a low of 33% in 2015. The long-term trend for those saying laws are “adequate” has also been stable: 23% in 2009; 26% in 2012; 28% in 2015; and 25% in 2018.
Animals in pounds and shelters: The belief that laws protecting animals in pounds/shelters are adequate has zig-zagged in the last 10 years. After dropping slightly from 39% to 37% from 2009 to 2012, the proportion of “adequate” responses increased to 41% in 2015 and then came back down to 37% in 2018.
Animals in zoos and aquariums: After reaching a high point in 2015 of 49% of respondents indicating that laws protecting animals in zoos/aquariums are adequate, the proportion dropped to 43% in 2018, the lowest percentage over the survey’s 10 years. From 2015 to 2018, there was a significant drop (6%) in those saying laws are adequate for zoo/aquarium animals.
Animals kept as companions/pets: There has been a long-term downward trend in the proportion of U.S. adults believing that laws were adequate for protecting animals kept as companions/pets. In 2009, the proportion of people indicating laws are adequate was 60%, whereas in 2018 that proportion was 55%. The short-term trend was also significant, from 59% in 2015 to 55% in 2018.
Animals raised for food: The long-term trend since 2009 shows little change in the perceived adequacy of laws protecting animals raised for food. The proportion of respondents indicating that laws are adequate has hovered around 30% over the 10 years of the survey, dipping slightly in 2018 to the lowest point of 29% in 2018. Those saying that laws are “not adequate” for animals raised for food was also at its highest point in 2018 (41%).
Endangered species: Those saying endangered species protection laws are “adequate” dropped from 42% in 2015 to the lowest point in 2018 (33%). This is among the two largest drops from 2015 to 2018 for this question. Notably, the proportion of “don’t know” responses stayed about the same, while the percentage of people saying “not adequate” increased by 8%, suggesting more certainty in the view. The long-term differences from 2009 to 2018 are smaller, but still significant and in the same direction.
Horses and dogs used in racing: The perception of the adequacy of laws protecting horses/dogs used in racing has been consistent over the 10 years of the survey, from 27% in 2009 to 31% in both 2012 and 2015, to 28% in 2018. This category is one of the four categories of animals that U.S. adults believe are least protected by laws (the others being animals in circuses/rodeos, animals in laboratories, and animals raised for food). It also has among the highest “don’t know” response rates.
Wildlife on public lands: Similar to the response to laws protecting endangered species, belief in the adequacy of laws protecting wildlife on public lands dropped 9% from 2015 to 2018, from 48% to 39%. The “don’t know” responses increased slightly (from 27% to 29%), and the “not adequate” sentiment increased sharply from 25% to 32%. The long-term difference (2009 to 2018) is smaller, but still significant and in the same direction.