Poll: A majority support federal involvement in dealing with water shortages and flooding

Larger proportions of Democrats than Republicans support federal involvement

Flood water submerges structures
Flood water from the Mississippi River submerges structures in the Freedom Island Campground and Marina in Hager City, Wis., on April 24.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series on Americans’ experiences with and perceptions of severe weather events. Read the first part of the series here

While trust in the federal government is generally low among the American people, apparently this is not the case when it comes to providing remedies for water shortages and flooding.

The latest Mood of the Nation Poll finds that a majority of Americans support government involvement both in determining water allocations to areas short on water supply and in providing insurance to homeowners in flood-prone areas. This stands in contrast to an earlier Mood of the Nation Poll finding that less than 30 percent trust the “government in Washington to do what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time”.

More specifically, the poll finds that nearly half of Americans think the federal government should play a major role in determining water allocations in parts of the country that are experiencing water scarcity. About half also support individual state governments playing a major role, and 40 percent support a major role for multi-state commissions.

On flooding, respondents were presented with four hypothetical proposals responding to the very real situation of insurance companies refusing to provide flood insurance to homeowners in especially high-risk areas. Strong majorities support federal government involvement including federal flood insurance — either subsidized or unsubsidized — and federal relocation of flooded homeowners. The proposal of “the federal government should not provide any sort of flood insurance to homeowners” received much less support.

Mood of the Nation Poll Director and Penn State professor of Political Science and Sociology Dr. Eric Plutzer observed, “In the abstract, many Americans will say that taxes are too high and the federal government is too large. But for challenges resulting from changing climate and extreme weather, large majorities of Democrats, Independents and even Republicans support tax-supported efforts by the federal to protect homeowners in vulnerable areas.”

Water allocations: Larger proportions of Democrats, Black and Latino Americans, younger generations, and those living in southwestern states favor federal involvement

There are not dramatic differences between most large groups of Americans in support for the role played by individual state governments, multistate commissions or organizations supporting farming and industry in determining water allocations. There are, however, a few notable differences in the level of support for the federal government’s role. 

Most notably, Democrats are nearly twice as likely than Republicans (60 percent compared to 35 percent) to say that the federal government should play a major role in determining water allocation.

Similarly, a higher proportion of Black and Latino Americans indicate support for the federal government playing a major role in water allocation than is the case among white Americans (66 percent and 57 percent compared to 41 percent).  

Additionally, over half of those in the younger generations — Generation Z and Millennials — support the federal government playing a major role in allocating scarce water, while around two in five among Generation X and Baby Boomers support a major role for the federal government. A higher proportion of those living in the nation’s arid southwestern states also favor the federal government playing a major role in water allocations.

Flood insurance: Majorities support federally subsidized flood insurance, but support is strongest among Democrats, Black Americans and Latino Americans

We checked for differences in support for each of the four proposed responses to flooding across a variety of major demographic groups and, in nearly all cases, at least half supported the three proposals indicating federal involvement (subsidized federal insurance, federally subsidized relocation, and unsubsidized federal flood insurance).

Similarly, fewer than 40 percent of all groups we looked at supported the proposal “The federal government should not provide any sort of flood insurance to homeowners.” The exception was the 41 percent of Republicans who supported that proposal.

Given the margins of error associated with a survey of this nature, the only notable group-level differences on these questions followed lines of gender, race and ethnicity, and political affiliation.

  • A much larger proportion of Black Americans than either Latino or white Americans support a federally subsidized flood insurance program (85 percent versus 76 percent and 66 percent, respectively). Similarly, support for federally subsidized relocation is highest among Black Americans (77 percent compared to 68 percent of Latino Americans and 60 percent of white Americans).

  • A larger proportion of men than women supported federally provided insurance without subsidies (61 percent versus 50 percent) and the proposal that would leave the federal government out of the flood insurance market (36 percent versus 27 percent).

A majority of Republicans support federally-subsidized flood insurance and federally-subsidized relocation of homeowners who have experienced floods, but that majority is even larger among Democrats.

  • 78 percent of Democrats support federal flood insurance that is subsidized by income taxes for lower income homeowners, compared to 60 percent of Republicans.

  • 73 percent of Democrats support federally-subsidized relocation for homeowners who have been flooded, compared to 52 percent of Republicans.

  • While a minority of both major parties think that the federal government should stay out of providing flood insurance, that proposal is nearly twice as popular among Republicans as it is among Democrats (supported by 41 percent and 21 percent, respectively).

Detailed results of the survey findings, along with survey methodology and transparency disclosures, are available here.