November 20, 2017
According to a new poll conducted by the nonprofit think tank Sentience Institute (SI), in collaboration with Ipsos Group, Americans are surprisingly supportive of major changes in agricultural policy:
This support is especially startling given that most Americans significantly underestimate the scale of factory farming:
“The public support we see for these proposals is remarkable,” said SI Research Director Jacy Reese. “Less than 10% of the population is vegetarian, but you can eat turkeys for Thanksgiving and still want society as a whole to shift away from animal agriculture. This is in line with the result that an overwhelming 97% of people see vegetarianism as a personal choice, despite many of them supporting policy change.”
Regarding how people say they usually buy humane products even though the vast majority of animals are factory farmed, Reese said, “This suggests a psychological refuge effect where we justify our animal product consumption by incorrectly assuming we eat ethically-produced food. This allows us to navigate the cognitive dissonance that comes from caring about animals while still eating food from factory farms.
“We hope to conduct this survey every few years so we can see how US attitudes are changing, especially given the growth of the plant-based foods sector and the scientific work being done to create real animal products from animal cells and proteins, without animal slaughter. Clean meat could be the tipping point that will shift the US food system in line with public values.”
SI also conducted an exploratory analysis of the relationships between demographics and overall survey responses. They found evidence that respondents who identified as female, respondents from the northeastern US, and black (non-Hispanic) and Hispanic (all races) respondents were all more opposed to animal farming and supportive of animal-free foods. Because this analysis was only exploratory, these results need to be tested with future research.
The survey was conducted in October 2017. It surveyed 1,094 US adults, census-balanced to be representative of age, sex, region, ethnicity, and income, with 17 questions about animal farming and animal-free food. The methodology was preregistered, including predictions about the results, and the data was weighted to ensure accurate demographic representation. The margin of error was +/- 3.6% at the 95% confidence level.
About Sentience Institute
Sentience Institute is a new nonprofit think tank dedicated to the expansion of humanity’s moral circle. We are founded on the principle of effective altruism, meaning we strive to help others as much as possible using the best evidence available. Because the scope of this mission is so large, we’re initially focused on finding effective strategies to help farmed animals.
 See calculations in this spreadsheet using the number of animals per farm as the best available proxy for whether it’s a CAFO, with assumptions including that all Large CAFOs are factory farms, the upper half of Medium CAFO-sized farms are factory farms, and no Small CAFO-sized farms are factory farms. Note that over 95% of farmed animals are chicken and fish. We lack census data for fish farm size, but consensus in the field seems to be that virtually all fish farms are factory farms in terms of confinement, disease, and other metrics.
Chickens raised for meat: 99.84-99.93%
Chickens raised for eggs: 98.71-98.99%
 Reese said, “There could also be a lack of information on the facts of US animal agriculture. While there have been dozens of undercover investigations of farms and slaughterhouses over the past two decades, the average person who sees just one of these can easily dismiss it as one bad apple. The public needs accurate, comprehensive information about the prevalence of cruelty in animal agriculture. People may also be unaware that over 95% of farmed animals are chickens and fish, and those populations are more likely to be factory farmed than pigs and cows. Chickens and fish are very small compared to pigs and cows, which means there are far more of them.”