Animal Tracker 2018: Methods & Overview
By many measures, the modern animal advocacy movement got started less than 50 years ago, thanks in part to the book Animal Liberation by philosopher Peter Singer. Of course, people had been advocating for animals for centuries. Going back to 500 BC, Pythagoras wrote, “As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.” Two and a half millennia later, the massacre continues at a pace Pythagoras likely never imagined.
That should probably be all the evidence we need that animal liberation is a long-term struggle. The change we seek for animals will very likely take generations to realize. At Faunalytics we know that long-term struggles require similarly long-term perspectives when it comes to strategy and research. That’s why we created the only longitudinal survey dedicated to animal protection issues, now in its eleventh year.
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.
For 2018, we are again presenting the Animal Tracker results in a series of blogs. This first blog provides the background and methodology and a brief overview of the latest results. In the forthcoming blogs, we will explore each of the key topics covered in the 2018 survey. You can also explore the past Animal Tracker results by reading our blog series from last year, browsing past reports, or using our graphing tool.
In the past three months, how often have you talked about or heard someone talking about animal protection, including animal rights and/or animal welfare?
Following is a summary of results from the 2018 survey. Future blogs in this series will explore each of these topics in more detail, including trends and demographics differences.
Favorability – What is your opinion of each of the following social causes or political movements? Survey respondents gave feedback on a number of social and political causes. They were asked if their opinion of each cause was favorable, unfavorable, or if they had no opinion. Along with workers’ rights (69% favorable), animal protection (68% favorable) was the most favorable cause listed in the survey. Only 8% of U.S. adults had an unfavorable opinion of the animal protection cause while 20% had no opinion and 4% did not know. The two most favorable causes were followed by tax reform and relief (60% favorable), environmentalism (59%), homeless advocacy (57%), immigration reform (52%), gay/lesbian rights (46%), and pro-life/anti-abortion (36%).
Credibility – How much credibility do you give each of the following sources when it comes to information about animal welfare? Respondents were asked how much credibility they attribute to a variety of sources that might provide information about animal welfare. Veterinarians ranked highest – the vast majority of people (80%) thought they have “significant” or “moderate” credibility. Family and friends were second (68%), followed by scientists and researchers (67%), farmers and ranchers (66%), animal protection groups (64%), and academics and scholars (54%). The least credible groups were attorneys and corporations, with 23% of respondents saying these sources have significant or moderate credibility. The remaining sources – news media and government – fell in the middle, with 45% and 36% having given them significant/moderate credibility, respectively.
Awareness – In the past three months, how often have you talked about or heard someone talking about animal protection, including animal rights and/or animal welfare? This question is asked as a general measure of public awareness and discussion. Although animal protection issues are on the radar of the U.S. public, they are not a regular topic of discussion. In 2018, one in ten U.S. adults (10%) said they talked or heard about animal issues “frequently” during the past three months, meaning daily or almost daily. About a third (32%) said “occasionally” (weekly or monthly), just over a fourth (28%) said “rarely” (once or twice), and nearly a third of respondents (30%) said they did not discuss or hear about animal issues at all in the past three months.
Animal Welfare Importance – How important to you is the welfare and protection of animals in each of the following situations? The perceived importance of animal welfare is generally very high. In 2018, more than three-fourths of U.S. adults said that the welfare and protection of animals is “very” or “somewhat” important for all of the situations listed. Perceived importance was greater for endangered species (85%), animals kept as companions (85%), animals in pounds and shelters (84%), animals in zoos and aquariums (83%), and wildlife on public lands (83%). It was slightly lower for horses and dogs used in racing (75%), animals in laboratories (75%), animals raised for food (76%), and animals in circuses and rodeos (79%). However, in all cases, less than 6% of people surveyed said that animal welfare in these situations is “not at all important.”
Current Laws – Do you think that laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment are adequate or inadequate for each of the following kinds of animals? Opinions about the adequacy of laws protecting animals are quite mixed. In 2018, U.S. adults were most likely to think that laws are adequate for animals kept as companions (55% said adequate), animals in zoos and aquariums (43%), wildlife on public lands (39%), animals in pounds and shelters (37%), and endangered species (33%). People were slightly less likely to think that laws are adequate for animals in circuses and rodeos (25%), animals in laboratories (25%), horses and dogs used in racing (28%), and animals raised for food (29%). It is also important to note that many U.S. adults do not know whether laws protecting animals are adequate; the “don’t know” responses ranged from 23% to 35%.
The initial Animal Tracker survey was completed in June 2008 and included a larger sample size (N=1,500) to help establish a baseline of attitudes and behavior. 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 2018 survey was fielded from April 6-8.
The 2017 sample included 1,001 respondents (response rate: 29%). 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.
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.
Pending continued support, year twelve of the Animal Tracker will be fielded in the first 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 benefits of sponsorship include receiving early 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.