Animal Tracker 2018: Analysis & Takeaways
The Faunalytics Animal Tracker is an annual survey of U.S. adults’ attitudes and behavior with respect to animals and animal advocates. 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. The questions asked in 2018 were also asked in 2015, 2012, and 2009.
In this blog, we give our take on the results from 2018, highlight some key demographic differences, and discuss how attitudes and behaviors have changed over time. Our emphasis is on implications for animal advocates and their programs and campaigns. Please be sure to check out the final sections below for access to the full results from 2018, the complete dataset for all years, and our newly updated graphing tool!
Previous blogs covering the 2018 Animal Tracker have described the 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, covered the perceived importance of animal protection in different situations, and reviewed the perceived adequacy of animal protection laws.
In this final post in the series, we offer some overall takeaways for the 2018 results and the 10-year history of the Animal Tracker. In brief, little has changed over the past decade, but the animal protection cause remains popular and there seems to be more interest in stronger animal protection laws. On the other hand, we may have some work ahead of us to convince the next generation to prioritize animal advocacy.
As always, we welcome your feedback using the comment option below or by contacting us directly!
Protecting Animals Is Popular
People don’t talk about animal issues all that much. In fact, in the three months prior to taking the survey, most respondents (58%) said they had heard about or discussed animal issues “rarely” or “not at all.” But that has not stopped most U.S. adults from having a positive opinion of the animal protection cause and trust in animal advocacy groups. In 2018, 68% said they have a “favorable” opinion of the animal protection cause (only 8% said “unfavorable”). This was tied with workers’ rights as the most favorable cause, among eight listed in the survey.
Also in 2018, 64% of U.S. adults said that animal protection groups have significant/moderate credibility when it comes to animal welfare information (only 9% said “no credibility”). Again, animal groups ranked among the most credible sources, with only veterinarians clearly rated higher by respondents. Of course, not all animal groups have equal credibility. We would expect to find substantial differences in credibility if we specified groups that many people consider to be either too extreme or too mainstream.
On another 2018 survey question, at least 75% of U.S. adults said that the welfare and protection is important for all nine types of animals included in the survey. On average, just 3% of people said that animal protection was “not at all” important. More than twice this number (7%, on average) said they “don’t know” how important animal welfare and protection is for the different animals listed.
These rough measures of popularity have remained largely consistent since 2008, when the Animal Tracker began. While we would like to see the numbers go up (especially for people hearing about or discussing animal issues), in most cases they’re pretty strong already. Animal advocates have a solid base of favorability and credibility, which is helpful for persuading consumers, policymakers, and others. We recommend further research to distinguish between organizations, spokespeople, and types of advocacy to shed more light on how to improve credibility.
A Desire For Better Laws
Thanks in part to the credible voices of animal advocates, many U.S. adults understand that current laws to protect animal advocates are inadequate. On average across all of the animal types listed in the survey, 35% of respondents said that laws are “not adequate.” In more than half of cases, there were more people who believed that laws are inadequate than those who said they are adequate. For this question in particular, there were also very large “don’t know” responses that ranged from 23% to 35%.
While most Animal Tracker results have remained largely steady over time, those saying that laws are adequate has decreased over time for all animal types. In most cases, both the short-term (2015-2018) and the long-term (2009-2018) changes are significant. This is true for companion animals (in both shelters and homes), farmed animals, and animals in zoos and aquariums. But the difference is most obvious when it comes to wildlife, including both endangered species and “wildlife on public lands.”
Specifically, the percentage of people believing that laws for wildlife are adequate has declined by about 5% since 2009. More recently, it declined by about 9% since 2015. This is a dramatic change for such a short period of time and trends for the two wildlife categories have paralleled each other since 2009. Whether it’s the general encroachment on wildlife due to human development or a response to specific federal or state restrictions is unclear. But what is clear is that many U.S. adults now think animal protection laws are inadequate and would likely support strengthening them.
Focusing On The Next Generation
The overall picture provided by the Animal Tracker is that younger people are less favorable than older people when it comes to animal advocates and animal protection issues. Many people might intuitively guess that younger people view animal advocacy more positively. Our (probability-based and representative) survey results suggest otherwise. For instance, here’s an excerpt from last year’s Animal Tracker:
“People age 18-29 are less likely than other age groups to believe that humane education is important. Only 29% of people age 18-29 have consumed a meat or dairy substitute in the past year, compared to 35% of those age 60 and older. Younger people are also generally less likely to donate to animal groups and more likely to go to circuses, zoos, or aquariums. Somewhat surprisingly, people age 18-29 are also less supportive of a variety of social movement tactics when compared to older age groups.”
In 2018, we see a similar pattern in the responses. For almost all measures, those age 45 and older think or behave in ways that are more positive than those under age 45. The 2018 results show that significantly fewer of those under age 45 are favorable toward the animal protection cause. They are also significantly less likely to say that the credibility of animal protection groups is “significant” or “moderate.” Those under age 45 are also significantly less likely to have heard or talked about animal issues in the past three months.
The age difference is probably clearest when it comes to the question about the importance of animal protection. For every type of animal in the survey, those in the youngest group (18-29) were least likely to say that animal welfare and protection is “very” important. The results were similar for respondents age 30-44. Conversely, those in the 45-59 age group were most likely to say that animal welfare is very important. Those in the 60 and older age group are less favorable toward animal protection than 45-59 year-olds, but more favorable than those 44 and under. Below, we present a visualization of one example of this phenomenon: responses to a question about the importance of welfare and protection of animals used for food.
Is the animal advocacy movement losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our youth? That’s probably a stretch, but the Animal Tracker results should encourage us to explore age differences further. In most cases, those in the younger age groups respond with higher rates of “don’t know” and “no opinion” than older respondents, which partly explains the lower rates of favorability and credibility. However, even after excluding people who said they don’t know or have no opinion from the analysis, the age difference holds true for most Animal Tracker questions.
There is also an age difference when it comes to perceived adequacy of animal protection laws. Those age 18-44 were more likely to say they “don’t know” and less likely to offer an opinion than those 45 and older. However, after excluding respondents who said they don’t know, we find that younger respondents were less likely to say that laws are adequate for most types of animals included in the survey. It’s a finding that runs somewhat counter to the trends for other questions, though it’s unclear why this might be the case.
The More Things Change?
From 2015 to 2018, the Animal Tracker questions show a small but consistent shift away from supporting animal protection and animal advocates. This includes a small, non-significant decline in favorability and small but significant decline in the perceived credibility of animal advocates. There was also a very small decline in people hearing about or discussing animal issues and modest declines in the perceived importance of animal welfare and protection. As noted, from 2015 to 2018 there was also a decline in people thinking that animal protection laws are adequate.
It is not entirely clear why we see these small, but meaningful changes from 2015 to 2018. If we were to speculate, the current U.S. political and media environment may be a contributing factor. The news is often dominated by other issues, leaving little space for animal protection topics. There also seems to be growing skepticism of different sources of information, perhaps due to claims of “fake news.” However, this is only conjecture and it remains uncertain if the trends observed from 2015 to 2018 will continue in the future.
Despite those recent changes, it is remarkable to see how little the overall Animal Tracker results have changed over the past ten years. The overall favorability of the animal protection cause is unchanged since 2009, while perceived credibility of animal advocates has declined slightly. The amount of discussion of animal issues has also declined slightly since 2009, but not significantly. The perceived importance of animal welfare and protection has not changed significantly since 2009. Overall, there were few meaningful changes from 2009 to 2018.
The only major exception is in the perceived adequacy of laws to protect animals. Since 2009, those saying laws are adequate have declined significantly for companion animals (-6%), wildlife on public lands (-5%), endangered species (-5%), animals raised for food (-4%), and animals in zoos/aquariums (-4%). With few exceptions, including animals in laboratories and horses/dogs used in racing, fewer people in 2018 think animal protection laws are adequate when compared to 2009.
Other than these relatively modest differences, however, not much has changed in the past ten years. This is also true of the Animal Tracker questions asked in other years, which cover different topics as well as animal-related behavior. These results underscore the inherent challenges involved in changing the hearts and minds of society and the importance of animal advocates having a long-term perspective. It also speaks to balancing individual persuasion efforts with more focus on institutional change and enforcing improvements with better laws.
How To Get More Information
Faunalytics provides all Animal Tracker data publicly. Depending on your interests and goals, you can get the summary data, download the complete dataset, or explore the data with our graphing tool. To see our analysis of the 2017 Animal Tracker results, please visit the set of blogs mentioned in the intro above. To see the previous analyses of past years of the Animal Tracker, please visit our independent studies page.
This Google spreadsheet provides the topline Animal Tracker results for all years (see separate tabs), including the detailed results for different demographic groups. Results are weighted.
Our full Animal Tracker dataset is available in R and SPSS formats, providing respondent data at the individual level for analysis purposes. Access the full data on our datasets page.
How To Cite This Information
We’re excited to have you share the Animal Tracker results! You are welcome to share our blogs freely. If you are citing the results in a more formal setting, we recommend you follow research best practices. Ideally, you would provide all of the following information and a description of the methodology:
- The full verbatim questions for all results that are being shared (provided in each blog)
- The dates during which the survey was conducted (for 2018 it was April 6-8)
- Faunalytics designed and manages the study using the GfK KnowledgePanel for data collection
- Results were weighted to key demographics of the U.S. adult population including gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, income, and region
We recommend using the following standard language when sharing Animal Tracker results: “The Animal Tracker survey was conducted by Faunalytics using the GfK KnowledgePanel. The survey was fielded April 6 to April 8, 2018, with a total national adult sample of 1,001 respondents. For results based on the entire sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.1 percentage points. The data has been weighted to key demographics of the total U.S. adult population. Note: In addition to sampling error, question wording and other factors can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.”
The Animal Tracker is the only longitudinal opinion survey dedicated to animal issues. It is also a collaborative study, the results of which are freely available to advocates and scholars. Faunalytics manages the project, but we rely on donations from individuals and funding from sponsors to continue the study. Sponsors get early access to detailed survey results and the exclusive option to add their own questions.
Tentatively, year twelve of the Animal Tracker will be fielded in the first or second quarter of 2019 and will cover the following topics: self-reported knowledge of animal issues; perceived importance of protecting animals in different situations; perceived impact of the animal protection movement; support for the movement’s goals; and a series of agree-disagree statements covering a range of animal topics.
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, the Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund, Tigers in America, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the National Anti-Vivisection Society.
Each sponsor has our sincere gratitude for enabling the Animal Tracker to continue.