Americans tilt toward protecting environment, alternative fuels

WASHINGTON, D.C.
March 15, 2017 9:01pm
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•  Six out of ten say protecting environment is more important than traditional energy

•  Majority favor higher emissions standards, enforcement of regulations


Americans appear to be at odds with their new president and the Republican-controlled Congress, based on new polling by Gallup Inc.

Given a choice, the majority of Americans think protecting the environment should take precedence over developing more energy supplies, even at the risk of limiting the amount of traditional supplies the U.S. produces, Gallup says.

An even larger majority would prioritize developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power over the production of oil, gas and coal, according to the new data.

Americans' Views on Energy Trade-Offs

Gallup has asked Americans about the trade-off between protecting the environment and developing oil, gas and coal supplies every March since 2001, including the latest update in this year's March 1-5 Environment survey.

The public's attitudes on these issues are particularly relevant as President Donald Trump has proposed rolling back environmental regulations affecting the energy industry, removing a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and lowering emissions restrictions on the automobile industry.

Americans have usually, but not always, favored the environment when given this choice. The exceptions came in early 2010 and from 2011 through 2013 as the nation recovered from the Great Recession, the Gallup surveys show.

Americans' preferences temporarily shifted back toward environmental protection in May 2010, after the massive leak from a damaged BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The gap has widened in favor of the environment in the past four years. In both 2016 and this year, 59 percent of Americans have favored the environment versus 34 percent who have favored the production of oil, gas and coal. The 25 percentage-point difference is the highest such margin in Gallup's history of asking the question.

Gallup has asked Americans about the trade-off between traditional and alternative energy sources in every year but one since 2011, and the public has consistently favored the latter, albeit by varying margins. The last two years have seen the largest gaps in favor of alternative energy over the six-year history of this trend, the polling company says.

The public's support for emphasizing alternative energy is underscored by the results of a separate question that asks Americans if they favor or oppose a number of energy-related proposals:

• Americans' support for spending more government money on solar and wind power (72 percent favor) is the highest of any on the list.

• About two-thirds of Americans favor more strongly enforcing federal environmental regulations and setting higher emissions standards for business and energy -- further reinforcing the public's tilt toward the environment versus energy production.

• Slightly less than half favor opening up more federal land for oil exploration.

Broad public support for solar and wind power, stronger environmental regulation enforcement and setting higher emissions standards has been evident each time these questions have been asked since 2001, Gallup says. However, the current support levels remain slightly lower than pre-recession readings. Support for opening up federal lands for oil exploration has dropped from 65 percent who favored it in 2014 to 46 percent today.

In addition to these findings, a separate question finds that over half of Americans (53 percent) are opposed to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as a means of increasing the production of natural gas and oil in the U.S.; 35 percent favor it.

Methodology notes

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70 percent cellphone respondents and 30 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.


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