March 6, 2008

Public Sends Mixed Signals on Energy Policy

Ethanol Research Loses Ground, Continued Division on ANWR

Summary of Findings

At a time of rising energy prices, the public continues to be conflicted in its overall approach toward energy and the environment. A majority of Americans say that developing new sources of energy, rather than protecting the environment, is the more important priority for the country. However, when asked specifically about energy policy priorities, 55% favor more conservation and regulation of energy, compared with 35% who support expanded energy exploration.

As in recent years, specific policies that address both energy and the environment draw overwhelming support. Nine-in-ten Americans favor requiring better auto fuel efficiency standards, while substantial majorities also support increased federal funding for alternative energy (81%) and mass transportation (72%).

By contrast, there is greater division over other energy policies. A majority (57%) favors increased federal funding on ethanol research, but support has fallen over the past two years (from 67% in February 2006).

The public continues to be almost evenly split over the idea of promoting more nuclear power (48% oppose vs. 44% favor). And a majority (53%) opposes giving tax cuts to energy companies to do more oil exploration.

With gas prices already high and expected to increase, the public overwhelmingly rejects boosting gas taxes to encourage carpooling and energy conservation. By greater than three-to-one (75% to 22%), Americans oppose raising gas taxes.
The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 20-24 among 1,508 adults, finds continued public divisions over drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Currently, 50% oppose drilling in the Alaska refuge while 42% are in favor. As recently as September of 2005, 50% of Americans favored allowing drilling in ANWR, while 42% were opposed.

Half Oppose Drilling in ANWR

Opposition to drilling in ANWR is much more widespread among women than men, and among younger people — especially those under age 30 — than among older Americans. About twice as many Republicans as Democrats favor drilling in ANWR (63% vs. 31%). Yet both parties are divided ideologically over drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Fully 73% of liberal Democrats, but a much smaller majority of the party’s conservatives and moderates (54%), oppose oil and gas drilling in ANWR. Two-thirds of conservative Republicans (66%) favor drilling in the Arctic refuge compared with 57% of the party’s liberal and moderate members.

Partisans Agree on Some Energy Policies

However, there continues to be substantial agreement across partisan lines on several areas of energy policy. Roughly 90% of Republicans, Democrats and independents support tougher auto fuel standards, and about 80% in each group favor more federal funding for research into alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology.

Comparable majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents also favor more funding for ethanol research, but support for this policy has slipped among all three groups since February 2006.

Other energy policies are more divisive. Somewhat more independents (76%) and Democrats (73%) than Republicans (65%) favor increased funding for mass transit, including subway, rail and bus systems. Increased funding for mass transit also wins greater support from people living in urban (73%) and suburban areas (74%) than among those living in rural areas (62%).

Roughly six-in-ten Republicans (59%), but just 46% of independents and 34% of Democrats, support promoting the increased use of nuclear power. Notably, there also is a substantial gender gap in views on the use of nuclear power: many more men than women support increased use of nuclear energy (58% vs. 31%, respectively).

In addition, far more Republicans (52%) than Democrats (39%) favor giving tax cuts to energy companies to spur oil exploration. And while increased gasoline taxes are broadly unpopular, about twice as many Democrats as Republicans favor increasing gas taxes to encourage carpooling and conservation (29% vs. 15%, respectively).

About four-in-ten liberal Democrats, (41%) support higher gas taxes compared with just 22% of moderate and conservative Democrats. There also are ideological differences in the GOP over raising gas taxes, with a quarter of moderate and liberal Republicans favoring such an approach compared with 11% of conservative Republicans.

Support for Ethanol Research Slips

Although a majority of Americans (57%) favor increased federal funding for research on ethanol, support has declined 10 points from February 2006. Support for greater funding for ethanol research has declined substantially among college graduates: 56% favor this research currently, down from 77% two years ago.

In addition, support for ethanol research has also declined considerably in the Midwest (from 78% to 63%) and the South (from 67% to 53%), though somewhat less in other regions.