Greening Chinese attitudes? Yes and no.

Gallup has some data that point to a “greening” of the Chinese public:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifty-seven percent of Chinese adults surveyed in 2011 — before the country’s economic slowdown grabbed headlines — prioritized protecting the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. About one in five believed economic growth is more important. Chinese attitudes are typical of those in other emerging-market economies, where residents sided with the environment over the economy in earlier surveys.

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Although I believe that green issues are the area where the Chinese Party-state deserves the most criticism and will receive the most opposition politically in the future (after all, “clean water” is much more tangible to the masses than “free speech” and other tenets of liberalism), I’m disinclined to read much into these results. Why not? Well, somewhere between the 57% of Chinese that say protecting the environment is more important than growing the economy and the 77% who are generally satisfied with the Chinese government’s record of environmental protection lies the shadow of social desirability bias.

These two percentages (57% and 77%) seem to contradict each other unless a strong majority of Chinese already believe the government is putting the environment first, which not even the government seems to believe.  Instead, what we’re likely seeing is Chinese giving two “politically correct” answers and obfuscating the real data underneath.  As an educator I see this from students all the time, since they are conditioned to tell authority figures (and their peers) what they want to hear rather than offer genuine opinions and risk losing face.

Incidentally, the cohort that interests me is that small subset in the poll that believed in putting the environment first and were dissatisfied with China’s environmental record.  Who are these guys, and what are they doing?

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