Survey: Washington out of Touch With Mainstream America on Energy Policy

Nov. 15, 2011
Focus on wind and solar preferred by public over nuclear, coal, and oil

A survey initiated by a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank highlights a significant gulf between the views of Americans and those of Congress and the White House regarding energy policy.

“If Congress thinks it has found a winning issue in trashing wind and solar power, and if the Obama administration believes that voters will reward it for boosting coal, gas, and nuclear power, then both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are making serious miscalculations about the sentiments of mainstream Americans ... one year before the 2012 elections,” the Civil Society Institute (CSI) said in announcing the results.

Conducted Oct. 21-24 by ORC International for CSI, the telephone survey of 1,049 adults living in the continental United States finds:

• Only 13 percent of Americans—including just 20 percent of Republicans, 9 percent of Independents, 10 percent of Democrats, and 24 percent of Tea Party backers—support fossil-fuel/nuclear subsidies, while 38 percent support wind/solar subsidies. Only 13 percent of Americans—including just 26 percent of Tea Party backers—believe, “No energy source should receive federal subsidies.”

• Six in 10 Americans—including 59 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Independents, 59 percent of Democrats, and 59 percent of Tea Party members—oppose “federal subsidies for oil and gas, coal, natural gas, and other fossil-fuel companies.”

• Sixty-seven percent of Americans—including 65 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Independents, 68 percent of Democrats, and 62 percent of Tea Party backers—oppose taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear-power reactors in the United States.

• Seventy-one percent of Americans—including 55 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Independents, 84 percent of Democrats, and 47 percent of Tea Party backers—strongly or somewhat support “a shift of federal loan-guarantee support for energy away from nuclear reactors and towards clean renewable energy, such as wind and solar.”

• Seventy-seven percent of Americans—including 65 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Independents, 88 percent of Democrats, and 56 percent of Tea Party members—believe the United States “needs to be a clean-energy-technology leader, and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar, and energy-efficiency technologies.”

Pam Solo, CSI founder and president, said: “Americans believe that the energy industries have an undue influence over decisions made by Washington. They want leadership and problem solving from Washington for a clean-energy future. Americans understand that we can no longer have our economy and environment tethered to ‘old’ energy solutions that are unsafe, unhealthy, and simply unable to meet our long-term needs.”

Graham Hueber, ORC International senior researcher, said: “One clear message of this survey is that there is no clear ‘old-fuel constituency’ in the sense of a large number of unified Americans who favor fossil fuels and nuclear power over wind and solar power. In fact, Republicans and Tea Party supporters, who might seem like the most logical place for such a constituency, are somewhat more likely than others to support federal subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power, but they also would prefer development of cleaner sources of energy. These are actually quite striking findings in the context of the 2012 election campaign.”

Other findings of the survey include:

• Only 27 percent of Americans—including 47 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of Independents, 11 percent of Democrats, and 57 percent of Tea Party supporters—agree with the following statement: “Congress and the President should stay out of the energy markets and let private enterprise have a free hand in picking energy sources and setting prices.”

• Seventy-two percent of Americans—including 62 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, 83 percent of Democrats, and 54 percent of Tea Party supporters—agree that, “America’s oil, coal, and natural-gas companies have a disproportionate influence on Congress and the White House when it comes to making national energy policy.”

• Sixty-nine percent of Americans—including 59 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Independents, 78 percent of Democrats, and 48 percent of Tea Party supporters—think it would be a “bad idea” for the United States “to ‘put on hold’ progress towards cleaner energy sources during the current economic difficulty.”

• Seventy-six percent of Americans—including 62 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, 90 percent of Democrats, and half of Tea Party supporters—agree strongly or somewhat with the following statement: “Smarter energy choices are the key to creating a future that is healthy and safe because fossil fuels create toxic wastes that are a threat to our health and safety.”

• Sixty-five percent of Americans—including 55 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Independents, 72 percent of Democrats, and 49 percent of Tea Party backers—would support a phaseout of coal-fired power plants in the United States if “increased energy efficiency and off-the-shelf renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, could meet our energy demands.”

• Seventy-eight percent of Americans—including 68 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, 85 percent of Democrats, and 61 percent of Tea Party backers—agree with the following statement: “Water shortages and clean drinking water are real concerns. America should put the emphasis on first developing new energy sources that require the least water and cause minimal water pollution.”

• Only 17 percent of Americans think climate change was not a factor in at least 10 disasters “caused by so-called extreme weather” in 2011. Fewer than half (45 percent) of Tea Party members fall into the climate-change-denial camp on this question.

• Seventy-nine percent of Americans—including 66 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents, 91 percent of Democrats, and 55 percent of Tea Party supporters—say they are very or somewhat concerned about “the natural-gas-drilling process sometimes referred to as ‘fracking’” as it relates to water quality.

• Seventy-four percent of Americans—including 68 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Independents, 81 percent of Democrats, and 58 percent of Tea Party backers—agree with the following statement: “The cost of electricity paid by consumers is only part of the price of energy. We have to look at the whole picture—including water quality, environmental damages, and human health problems—when we talk about what a particular source of energy costs America.”

The margin of error for the survey is ±3 percent.

CSI says it receives neither direct nor indirect support from any energy-related company, organization, or individual.

For the complete survey findings, click here.

About the Author

Scott Arnold | Executive Editor

Described by a colleague as "a cyborg ... requir(ing) virtually no sleep, no time off, and bland nourishment that can be consumed while at his desk" who was sent "back from the future not to terminate anyone, but with the prime directive 'to edit dry technical copy' in order to save the world at a later date," Scott Arnold joined the editorial staff of HPAC Engineering in 1999. Prior to that, he worked as an editor for daily newspapers and a specialty-publications company. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.