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.
Similarly, Americans historically prioritized environment protection over economic growth from 1985 to 2008. However, economic growth has taken priority since the economic recession deepened in 2009. If China's economic troubles worsen, residents' attitudes could change too.
Among the 22% of Chinese who did not choose the environment or the economy, about half of them (12%) answered they don't know. Those who did not have an opinion tended to be poor rural residents with no education beyond elementary school, perhaps indicating their lack of awareness about environmental issues. The 9% who answered neither tended to be wealthy urban residents with high education. For them, it might be a dilemma of choosing one over the other because both the economy and the environment are extremely important.