Animal Tracker 2019: Contradictions In Public Opinion
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. ~ George Bernard Shaw
The Faunalytics Animal Tracker is the only longitudinal survey dedicated to animal issues, and it monitors a range of opinions and behaviors relating to animals and animal advocacy. As we’ve done in the past, we’re sharing this year’s Animal Tracker results through a series of blogs. The first blog covered attitudes toward the animal movement’s impact and goals (along with general survey results and methods), the second looked at self-reported knowledge about animal issues, and the third examined the perceived importance of protecting animals when engaging in specific behaviors like buying food or getting a new pet.
Now, we’re turning our attention to people’s agreement with the final Animal Tracker question for 2019, which is arguably the most interesting and informative. We gauge the degree to which U.S. adults agree with practices like buying fur clothing, eating animals, and classroom dissection. We also look at how much people agree that animals have thoughts and feelings, that farmed animals are similar to companion animals, and that people have an obligation to avoid harming animals. Here is the survey question:
Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?
Scale: Agree; Disagree; No Opinion; Do Not Know
- Some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions
- Buying clothes made of real animal fur is ethically acceptable
- Dissecting animals is a vital way for students to learn about anatomy
- Farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals
- People have an obligation to avoid harming all animals
- Protecting endangered or threatened species should be a global priority
- Research on animals is necessary for medical advancement
- Using animals for food is necessary for human survival
This set of statements as a whole helps us understand and describe the divide between people’s goals to treat nonhuman animals well on the one hand, and beliefs we have about “necessary” practices that harm animals on the other. For example, two statements that align with animal welfare goals met with agreement from over three-quarters of the respondents: “some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions” (78%) and “protecting endangered or threatened species should be a global priority” (77%). However, at least half of our respondents agreed with three statements about practices that harm animals:
- “Using animals for food is necessary for human survival” (63%)
- “Research on animals is necessary for medical advancement” (50%)
- “Dissecting animals is a vital way for students to learn about anatomy” (50%)
Another important difference revealed by this set of question is the difference between beliefs about protection and care for farm animals and for endangered species. While 77% of respondents agreed that endangered or threatened species should be protected, only 54% agreed that “Farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals.”
Finally, just over half of the respondents (53%) agreed with the bottom-line statement that “People have an obligation to avoid harming all animals.”
As a note, we offer both “no opinion” and “do not know” as response options in our surveys because we know from experience that many people do not have well-formed opinions of animal issues. Across the statements, those saying they had no opinion ranged from 8% to 26%; those saying they did not know ranged from 5% to 13%. Therefore, there is a substantial proportion of U.S. adults who neither agree nor disagree with each of the statements. As usual, our analyses focus just on rates of agreement for each statement.
In the following sections, we explore demographic differences when it comes to level of agreement with these statements. We also take a look at trends by comparing our latest results with past years of the Animal Tracker, going back as far as 2008. At the end of this blog, we provide links to the complete details for all years of the study and all demographic groups. We also provide a link to the updated graphing tool with the full dataset, which combines twelve years of Animal Tracker results. We hope others will analyze the data and find helpful insights to guide work in support of animals.
In this section, we focus on Animal Tracker results (from March 2019) and differences in responses between people of different genders, ages, levels of formal education, ethnicities, and geographic regions. We also look at differences based on whether people have companion animals in the household.
Gender: Women exhibited a more favorable attitude toward animals than men on every statement. This finding is consistent with previous years. Notably, most women (64%) agree that “farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals,” while less than half of men do (44%). 61% of women compared to 45% of men agree that “people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals.” Most men (58%) agree that “dissecting animals is a vital way for students to learn about anatomy,” while only 44% of women agree. Similarly, most men (57%) agree that “research on animals is necessary for medical advancement,” while only 43% of women do.
Age: There were only a few age differences that fell outside of the survey’s margin of error. In response to the statement “people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals,” 47% of 18-29 year olds and 46% of 30-44 year olds agreed, compared to 54% of those 45-59 and 64% of those over 60. But those in the younger groups were also less likely to agree that “research on animals is necessary for medical advancement” than average (44% vs. 50% overall). Those 60 and above showed an opposite pattern of results, and were much more likely to agree that “people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals” (64% vs. 53% overall), but also that “research on animals is necessary for medical advancement” (56% vs. 50% overall).
Education: Those with fewer years of education held more positive attitudes toward animals on most of the statements. For example, while only 31% of those with less than a high school education agreed that “research on animals is necessary for medical advancement,” 63% of those with a Bachelor’s degree or more education did. A similar disparity existed when in terms of to dissection. In addition, while 68% of those with less than a high school education agreed that “farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals,” only 49% of those with a Bachelor’s degree agreed. Education level appeared to make no difference in agreement with the statements “some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions” and “protecting endangered or threatened species should be a global priority.”
Ethnicity: Differences in opinions based on race/ethnicity were quite large in some cases. White people were significantly more likely to agree that dissection is vital for students (54% vs. 50% overall), that animal research is necessary for medical advancement (53% vs. 50% overall), and that using animals for food is necessary (68% vs. 63% overall). Black people were less likely to agree that using animals for food is necessary (48% vs. 63% overall), that animals are capable of thinking and feeling (66% vs. 78% overall), that protecting endangered species should be a global priority (69% vs. 77% overall), and that medical research on animals is necessary (43% vs. 50% overall). Latino/Hispanic respondents were less likely to agree that dissection is vital for students (37% vs. 50% overall), that research on animals is necessary (37% vs. 50% overall), and that using animals for food is necessary (52% vs. 63% overall). This group was also more likely to agree that some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions (86% vs. 78%), that farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals (61% vs. 54%), and that people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals (60% vs. 53%).
Region: Those in the Western part of the US generally had more positive attitudes toward animals, while those in the Midwest had less positive attitudes. The greatest difference in attitudes was on the statement “research on animals is necessary for medical advancement:” while 59% of those from the Midwest agreed, only 46% of those from the West agreed. Similarly, 57% of those from the Midwest agreed that dissecting animals was important for students, compared to only 46% of those from the West. People in the West also expressed more animal-friendly views than people in the Midwest on the statements “using animals for food is necessary for human survival” (60% agreement vs. 69%) and “people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals” (57% agreement vs. 48%).
Companion Animals in the Household: Those who live with companion animals consistently showed more positive attitudes toward animals, which was consistent across most Animal Tracker questions. The largest difference was on the statement “Some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions:” While over four-fifths (84%) of those who live with companion animals agreed with this statement, only two-thirds (68%) of those without companion animals agreed.
The Animal Tracker agree-disagree question has been asked five times, most recently in 2019, but also in 2016, 2013, 2010, and 2008. As a note, in order to simplify analyses, we focus on the proportion of respondents who agree with each statement; therefore, we do not include “disagree” responses in our analyses. In addition, we exclude “no opinion” and “do not know” responses, although these answers are meaningful and might be treated as an indication of a lack of awareness of or engagement with a particular issue.
Overall, the long-term trend since 2008 indicates meaningful differences for five of the eight agree-disagree statements. Short-term differences between 2016 to 2019 also indicate some significant changes. In general, these are positive changes for animals, although some results are mixed. The trends that fall outside of the survey’s margin of error and are therefore likely meaningful are outlined below by subject area.
Some animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions: Agreement with this statement increased significantly from 2016 (72%) to 2019 (78%). Agreement in 2008 was 71%, suggesting the new high of 78% is a meaningful long-term increase.
Buying clothes made of real animal fur is ethically acceptable: A minority of U.S. adults (22%) agrees with this statement in 2019, and the trend seems to be downward from the 27% agreement reported in 2008, suggesting there is lower acceptance of fur clothing. This baseline proportion declined significantly to 21% in 2010, edged back up to 23% in 2013, back down to 21 % in 2016, and currently sits at 22%.
Dissecting animals is a vital way for students to learn about anatomy: Half of survey respondents (50%) agreed with this statement in of 2019. Agreement with this statement has shown little change since 2008, with the level of agreement hovering around 50% each year.
Farm animals deserve the same consideration as pets and other animals: The percent of people who agree with this statement has moved up and down within a 7-percentage-point range over the course of the Animal Tracker. In 2008, 56% of U.S. adults agreed with the statement, but in 2010 the proportion dropped to 52%. The agreement level then rebounded to 57% in 2013, declined again to 50% in 2016, and rose again to 54% in 2019.
People have an obligation to avoid harming all animals: There has been very little change in the agreement level for this statement, with just over half of the respondents in agreement; all changes over time are within the error margin.
Protecting endangered or threatened species should be a global priority: The level of agreement to this statement in 2019 (77%) was higher than any previous year. In the earlier Animal Tracker years (2008 and 2010), agreement was close to 70%, and in 2013 and 2016, 73% agreed. The 77% rate of agreement in 2019 suggests a meaningful long-term trend and an increase in support for protecting endangered species.
Research on animals is necessary for medical advancement: Agreement with this statement was unchanged at 55% in 2008, 2010, and 2013. In 2016, the agreement level declined significantly to 47%, but in 2019 it rebounded to 50%. This is a notable improvement, but is still lower than the earliest years of the survey.
Using animals for food is necessary for human survival: The long-term trend since 2008 shows declining levels of agreement with this statement. In 2008, 70% of U.S. adults agreed with that animals were necessary as food, while in 2019 that proportion had declined to 63%. In fact, percent agreement on this item has declined each time the Animal Tracker has been run, perhaps reflecting the growing media coverage of plant-based and vegan diets, including information on the health benefits.
What’s Next For The Animal Tracker?
2019 is the twelfth and final year of Faunalytics’ longest-running research project. But don’t say goodbye to the Animal Tracker just yet! For one thing, the data and graphing tool will always be available on our site (details below).
And for another, we’re excited to announce a capstone analysis drawing on all twelve years of Animal Tracker data, which will be coming in the fall of this year! This analysis will answer several questions, including: What demographic and other features define and categorize people as animal advocates, allies, or opponents? What do attitudes toward animal welfare look like across the U.S.? And how have those attitudes changed or stayed the same over the past twelve years?
How To Get More Information
We provide 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 2019 Animal Tracker results, please visit the set of blogs mentioned in the intro above. To see the analyses of past years of the Animal Tracker, please visit our Open Science Framework Animal Tracker page.
Crosstab Data: 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.
Full Dataset: Our full Animal Tracker dataset is available in CSV and SPSS formats, providing respondent data at the individual level for analysis purposes. Access all 12 years of data on our Open Science Framework Animal Tracker page.
Graphing Tool: Our Animal Tracker graphing tool lets you visualize all years of the Animal Tracker data to explore differences by group and over time. The tool was generously developed by Animal Visuals.
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 2019: 3/15/2019 – 3/17/2019)
- Note that Faunalytics designed and manages the study using the GfK KnowledgePanel for data collection
- Note that 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 March 15, 2019 to March 17, 2019, with a total national adult sample of 1,000 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.”