Poll: American Opinion Shifts Toward Energy Over Environment

PRINCETON, New Jersey, April 7, 2010 (ENS) – For 10 years Gallup polls have been asking Americans which is a higher priority – energy development or environmental protection. In survey results released Tuesday, for the first time respondents chose the development of energy supplies over protecting the environment.

Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones said the results of the March 4-7 poll of 1,014 American adults represent a continuing shift in public opinion toward energy production.

“One possible explanation for the greater public priority on energy production at a time of diminished concern about energy is that Americans typically become somewhat less likely to say they favor environmental protection during down economic times,” said Jones.

Drilling for natural gas near Pinedale, Wyoming, 2008. (Photo by Richard Waite courtesy World Resources Institute)

In the same poll, Gallup pollsters found a new high in the percentage of Americans favoring economic growth over environmental protection, he said.

The survey was conducted a few weeks before President Barack Obama announced the opening of oil exploration off some sections of the U.S. Atlantic coast on March 31.

The poll took place shortly after the President provided $8.33 billion in loan guarantees for the construction and operation of the first U.S. nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades.

Since 2007, when preferences for environmental protection were the greatest (58% to 34%), the opinions of respondents to this question have shown significant movement each year in the direction of prioritizing energy production, Jones explained.

This change has been evident among nearly every major demographic subgroup, although self-identified liberals have remained relatively steadfast in saying the environment should be a higher priority, he said.

At the same time, respondents continue to advocate greater energy conservation by consumers (52%) over greater production of oil, gas, and coal supplies (36%) as a means of solving the nation’s energy problems.

Jones explained that Americans surveyed in Gallup polls have always favored greater consumer conservation, though this year marks the highest percentage favoring production in the last 10 years, by just one percentage point.

The movement toward pro-production attitudes comes at a time when Americans’ concerns about the U.S. energy situation have subsided, said Jones.

Thirty-three percent of those polled described the energy situation in the United States as “very serious,” down from 42% last year and the lowest since 2005.

Just 45% of respondents expect the U.S. to face a critical energy shortage in the next five years, the lowest Gallup has measured in the last 10 years. The percentage is down from 62% in 2008, when gas prices were skyrocketing above $4 a gallon.

Poll results are based on telephone interviews, on land lines and cell phones, with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older. Gallup said that for results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

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