Animal Tracker 2019: Knowledge Of Animal Issues
Only connect. ~ E.M. Forster
Two weeks ago, we shared the first public results from the 2019 Faunalytics Animal Tracker, along with an overview of the results and details of the methodology. In this blog we focus in on the question of knowledge. Specifically, how knowledgeable people feel about different animal issues.
Knowledge is important because most people need to be aware of an issue before they change their opinion or behavior. If people don’t know about the plight of animals in shelters or on farms or in laboratories, they are unlikely to be motivated to do anything about it. Tracking knowledge over time and comparing it by issue also helps animal advocates understand where awareness is increasing or decreasing.
The Animal Tracker gauges self-reported knowledge. Essentially, we ask people how knowledgeable they feel about different issues, a method that has limitations. A better approach to gauging knowledge would be to give people an actual test to measure what they know. This more in-depth approach is outside the scope of the Animal Tracker, but self-reported knowledge still provides insight into the minds of U.S. adults.
Following is the question that we ask every three years, most recently in April 2019.
How knowledgeable do you feel about issues that affect the welfare of animals in the following circumstances?
Scale: Very Knowledgeable; Somewhat Knowledgeable; Not Very Knowledgeable; Not at All Knowledgeable; Do Not 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
The majority of people do not feel knowledgeable about issues that affect the welfare of animals, with one exception. When it comes to animals kept as companions or pets, almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) reported being knowledgeable (“very” or “somewhat”) about these animals’ welfare issues. Next highest was issues affecting animals in zoos and aquariums, with 50% of respondents asserting themselves as knowledgeable.
Only about 4 in 10 claim knowledge relating to issues affecting animals in pounds and shelters (46%), animals raised for food (45%), endangered species (42%), and wildlife on public lands (37%). The three lowest categories were issues affecting animals in circuses and rodeos (30%), horses and dogs used in racing (27%), and animals in laboratories (25%).
Below we explore demographic differences when it comes to self-reported knowledge of animal issues. We also take a look at knowledge-related trends, 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 last blog in this series. We will also be updating our graphing tool with 2019 data and releasing the full dataset combining twelve years of Animal Tracker results in SPSS and CSV format.
Below we focus on just the most recent Animal Tracker results (from April 2019) and differences by gender, age, level of formal education, ethnicity, geographic region, and whether or not people have companion animals in the household.
Gender: For most of the animal types included in this survey, the gender difference is small. For three types of animals, women are more likely to be knowledgeable (very or somewhat) than men: animals kept as companions/pets (77% of women vs. 68% of men), animals in zoos/aquariums (55% vs. 44%), and animals in circuses/rodeos (33% vs. 27%). The gender difference flips when it comes to welfare issues related to wildlife on public lands, where 39% of men claim to be very/somewhat knowledgeable compared with 34% of women.
Age: The youngest and oldest age groups most often stand apart from the overall average on self-reported knowledge of animal issues. People 18-29 years old are less likely to say they are knowledgeable compared with the overall average in five categories: animals kept as companions/pets (66% vs. overall average of 74%), animals in zoos/aquariums (45% vs. 50%), endangered species (35% vs. 42%), animals in circuses/rodeos (23% vs. 30%), and horses/dogs used in racing (19% vs. 27%). Conversely, a larger proportion of people aged 60+ described themselves as very or somewhat knowledgeable compared to the overall average in three categories: animals kept as companions/pets (80% vs. overall average of 74%), animals in zoos/aquariums (56% vs. 50%), and animals raised for food (52% vs. 45%).
Education: Level of education does not appear to be related to knowledge of issues for most types of animals. But four categories of animal issue showed differences of 10-12% between some educational groups. In two of those categories, those with less than a high school education had the highest percentage of self-reported knowledgeable respondents: animals in circuses/rodeos (38%) and horses/dogs used in racing (36%). In two other categories, those with “some college” reported the highest knowledge: animals kept as companions/pets (80%) and wildlife on public lands (41%).
Ethnicity: Differences in knowledge by race or ethnicity consistently show that Black people report being less knowledgeable than average, with Latino/Hispanic and White people reporting a level of knowledge of most animal issues that is right around average. Specifically, Black respondents rated their own knowledge lower than the average U.S. adult for all of the issues covered in the Animal Tracker. This difference was most pronounced for animals kept as companions/pets (55% of Black respondents said they were knowledgeable vs. overall average of 74%) and animals in zoos/aquariums (37% vs. 50%). Latino respondents reported being more knowledgeable than average for animals in laboratories (34% vs. overall average of 25%). Finally, White people make up the majority of the U.S. population and also the majority of survey respondents; their knowledge levels closely match the overall U.S. population.
Region: Self-reported knowledge is relatively consistent regardless of one’s geographic region. When comparing subgroups by region with the overall sample, there were few differences larger than +/- 5%, within the error margin for the subgroups given their smaller sample sizes. However, those in the Midwest reported being less knowledgeable of many animal issues, particularly horses/dogs used in racing (20% vs. overall average of 27%).
Companion Animals in Household: Those who live with companion animals report being significantly more knowledgeable about all animal-related issues than those who do not. This difference is most pronounced for people who consider themselves knowledgeable about companion animal issues (83% vs. 60%) and issues pertaining to animals in zoos/aquariums (57% vs. 39%). But it is also true of other issues, most notably animals in pounds/shelters: nearly half (49%) of people with companion animals are very/somewhat knowledgeable about issues for animals in pounds/shelters, compared to 40% of those who do not live with companion animals. The same holds for endangered species: 46% of those with companion animals are very/somewhat knowledgeable, compared to 35% of those who do not have a companion animal. This disparity in self-reported knowledge extends to all other issues areas as well, though to a lesser degree.
The Animal Tracker knowledge question has been asked five times, most recently in 2019, but also in 2016, 2013, 2010, and 2008.
Interestingly, in 2019 relative to 2016, self-reported knowledge went up in every category except one, where it remained the same. In one case, the increase was 9 percentage points, a sizeable lift. Several trends are worth noting and are covered below by subject area.
Animals in Circuses/Rodeos: 2019 saw a small uptick in self-reported knowledge from 2016, but the increase of 3% is just within the survey’s error margin. However, the 30% level of those who reported themselves to be very/somewhat knowledgeable in 2019 is higher than all previous years. One could speculate whether the spate of state laws banning wild animals in circuses over the last year might be related to this upward trend.
Animals in Laboratories: The long-term trend from 2008 to 2019 is essentially unchanged for this category of animals. The dips in 2010 and 2013 were within the error margin
Animals in Pounds/Shelters: Knowledge of animals in shelters has remained essentially flat from 2010 to 2019, hovering around 45%. Note that we do not have data for this category for 2008.
Animals in Zoos/Aquariums: This category saw the largest jump in 2019, a full 9 percentage points above 2016 (50% vs. 41%) and 13 points above 2013 (37%). There has been a lot of media coverage of the plight of whales and dolphins in marine parks in the past three years, which might contribute to the increase, but this explanation is speculative.
Animals Kept as Companions/Pets: The previous downward trend in self-reported knowledge of companion animal welfare issues rebounded in 2019, back to a level comparable to 2008 and 2010. There was a 6% increase from 2016 (68%) to 2019 (74%).
Animals Raised for Food: 2019 registered another modest uptick in knowledge, bringing self-reported knowledge to 45% of the population, the highest level of all 5 years of this survey question.
Endangered Species: While the most recent change from 2016 to 2019 shows an uptick of 5%, the long-term trend from 2008 to 2019 shows that knowledge is still down 5% from the first time the survey was given.
Horses/Dogs Used in Racing: The long-term trend from 2008 to 2019 is essentially unchanged for this category. Knowledge may have increased slightly from 2016 to 2019, but the difference (3%) is just within the error margin.
Wildlife on Public Lands: The most recent change from 2016 to 2019 shows an increase of 4% (from 33% to 37%), but the long-term trend from 2008 to 2019 indicates that self-reported knowledge is down 5%.