September 24, 2008

Declining Public Support for Global Engagement

Section 3: Opinions About Energy Policy

A large majority of Americans (76%) say reducing dependence on imported energy should be a long-term foreign policy goal. The public expresses broad support for a number of approaches aimed at addressing the nation’s energy supply.

Policy proposals that address both energy and the environment are non-controversial: 88% support raising fuel efficiency standards and 82% favor increased funding for alternative energy. Significant majorities of Republicans (86%), Democrats (89%), and independents (90%), favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks, and SUVs, and a similar percentage of each group expresses support for increased funding for research on alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology.

Two-thirds favor allowing more offshore drilling in U.S. waters, a view that garners the same level of support in coastal states as it does elsewhere. Nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (87%) favor allowing more oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters, a view shared by two-thirds of independents (67%). A smaller majority of Democrats favors more drilling in U.S. waters (55%), while a sizable minority (40%) opposes this proposal.

Just half of the public supports promoting the increased use of nuclear power, but that idea is more popular now than it was in February, when the public was split 44% in favor and 48% against (43% now say they oppose the increased use of nuclear power).

Support for more nuclear power is growing among Republicans; more than two-thirds (68%) favor this approach now, compared with 59% in February. A slight majority of independents (52%) also favor promoting the increased use of nuclear energy, up slightly from February (46%). By contrast, a majority of Democrats (55%) continue to oppose the idea, while just 38% support it.

Opinions about funding for ethanol research – which received about equal support from Republicans and Democrats in February (59% and 56%, respectively) – also are becoming more politically polarized. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (64%) favor more funding for ethanol research, compared with just half of Republicans (52%). Support for increased funding of ethanol research among independents is virtually unchanged (58% now vs. 60% in February).

The public is closely divided over the nations’ overall energy priorities: 45% say that expanding exploration, mining, and drilling, and the construction of new power plants should be the more important priority, while 47% say the priority should be on more energy conservation and regulation on energy use and prices. This reflects little change since June, but in February just 35% favored expanded exploration, mining and drilling and new power plants, while 55% supported greater conservation and regulation.

ANWR vs. Offshore Drilling

More Americans express support for offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters than say they would favor drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. About two-thirds (67%) favor offshore drilling, including majorities of men and women, younger and older respondents. Views of drilling in ANWR are more mixed (55% favor and 39% oppose).

Men are more likely than women to support drilling in ANWR and offshore drilling in U.S. waters, though the gap is wider on ANWR. About six-in-ten men (61%) favor drilling for oil and gas in the Alaska wildlife refuge, compared with just about half of women (49%). When it comes to offshore drilling, a majority of both men and women express support, but more men (70%) than women (63%) favor it.

Solid majorities of Republicans express support for drilling in ANWR (81%) and in U.S. waters (87%). About nine-in-ten conservative Republicans support drilling in both ANWR (90%) and offshore (91%), while moderate and liberal Republicans are more supportive of drilling off the U.S. coast (81%) than in ANWR (66%). Among Democrats, six-in-ten moderates and conservatives support offshore drilling, but just 39% favor drilling in the Alaska wildlife refuge. Fewer than half of liberal Democrats favor offshore drilling (44%) while j
ust 31% support drilling in ANWR. The number of independents that support drilling in U.S. waters is also considerably higher than the number that supports drilling in ANWR (67% vs. 52%).

Still, the option of drilling for oil and gas in the Alaska wildlife refuge is more popular than it was three months ago. Some 55% of Americans now say they would favor drilling in ANWR, up from 50% in June. Fewer than four-in-ten oppose the idea (39%), compared with 43% who opposed it in June.

Support for ANWR drilling has increased across demographic groups, with the most notable change among 18-29 year-olds. Nearly half in this age group now say they would favor drilling in ANWR (47%), up ten points since June and 20 points since February. There has been less change since February among older age groups, where there was already greater support for drilling in the Alaska refuge.

Will Drilling and Alternative Energy Help?

The public is not confident that increased domestic drilling and more funding for alternative energy will do a great deal to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Only about four-in-ten (41%) say that increased domestic drilling would do a lot to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil; just 43% say greater funding for wind, solar and hydrogen technology would do a lot to achieve that goal.

Just a third believe that allowing more domestic drilling will reduce the country’s energy dependence in the next few years, while about four-in-ten (41%) say it will take longer. Nearly twice as many see increased funding for alternative energy technology as a longer term solution (54%) than say it will help in the next few years (28%).

Republicans express the most confidence that more drilling in the U.S. would lead to energy independence; 57% of Republicans say more drilling would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil a lot, compared with just 39% of independents and 35% of Democrats. Independents (47%) and Democrats (46%) are somewhat more confident than Republicans (37%) that funding for alternative energy would do a lot to wean the nation from foreign oil.