From the Harris Poll:
NEW YORK, N.Y. – October 29, 2012 – With the presidential campaign in its final days each candidate’s policies are under constant review. While every individual American has his or her own set of priorities as to which policies contribute most to their support of one candidate over another, Americans as a whole seem to be placing higher importance on energy policy (with 77% rating it either very important or important) than on its frequent sparring partner, environmental policy (67%); in fact, among the policy areas tested, environmental policy appears to be the least influential over Americans’ likely presidential choice.
This is not to say that environmental policy is unimportant to voters; rather, all policy types measured are considered either very important or important by strong majorities of Americans, and it is simply influencing a smaller majority than other policy areas; top influencers include economic/budget (88%), tax (86%), jobs (86) and healthcare (85%) policies.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,562 adults surveyed online between September 17 and 24, 2012 by Harris Interactive.
While perceived importance grows with age for most policy areas, perhaps the most telling generational shift can be found in the dynamic between energy and environmental policy. Among Americans ages 18-35, 66% place importance energy policy, 63% on environmental policy – a gap of only three percentage points. However, that gap grows dramatically in older age groups, to 10 percentage points among 36-47 year olds (74%-64%), 13 points among 48-66 year olds (83%-70%) and 16 points among those 67 and older (90%-74%).
Mixed Opinions on Environmental Impact of Many Energy Sources and “Fracking” Concerns
As might be expected, solar and wind are the energy sources least often identified as environmentally unsound, with 4% and 5% of Americans, respectively, describing them as either very harmful or harmful to the environment. Hydropower was also seen as relatively low impact, with only 8% seeing it in this light; there does appear to be some confusion though, with one-fourth (25%) indicating they are not at all sure.
On the other end of the spectrum, nuclear power is the energy source Americans most frequently identify as very harmful or harmful to the environment (48%), followed by clean coal (34%).
The energy source Americans clearly feel least informed about is biomass; while just over two in ten (12%) identified it as very harmful or harmful, with over twice as many (27%) perceiving it as either not that harmful or not at all harmful, the majority (61%) are not at all sure.
Falling into the middle of the spectrum, so to speak, is natural gas: fewer than one-fourth of Americans (23%) perceive natural gas as either very harmful or harmful to the environment, while four in ten (40%) rate it not that harmful and roughly two in ten (19%) perceive it as not at all harmful; an additional 18% are not at all sure.
Looking more closely at issues related to natural gas, a growing topic of discussion U.S. energy and environmental policy talks, Americans are split in their attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) – the process by which natural gas is extracted natural gas from shale rock deep within the earth. Potential risks include damage to the environment, minor earthquakes and increased water usage; while potential benefits include job creation, economic growth and a domestic supply of energy. Americans are evenly divided between those perceiving the potential benefits as outweighing the risks (31%) and vice versa (32%), with nearly one-third on each side of the argument. An additional 38% are not at all sure, indicating that there is more education needed on the process and its implications.
Men are more likely to perceive the potential benefits of fracking as outweighing the risks (41%) than vice versa (30%), while women show a stronger likelihood to perceive the risks as outweighing potential benefits (33%, vs. 21% indicating the opposite). Women are also significantly more likely than men to indicate being not at all sure (46% women, 29% men).
“Even after the election is over, energy will remain an important subject for Americans because it is also central to so many other policies, especially economic, jobs and environmental policies,” says Harris Interactive Vice President and Senior Consultant Sarah Simmons. “In addition, energy pricing has a significant impact on families – whether it is in the prices they pay at the pump OR in the impact energy prices have on the ability of large and small businesses to increase the workforce. This unique role that energy plays in our nation’s economic health and our way of life will continue to keep the issues on the front burner.”
“Natural gas is viewed differently than more traditional energy sources, like nuclear or coal,” adds Simmons, “as these numbers illustrate. However, the public’s view of natural gas is still evolving, as seen in the divided attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing.”