Slimmer Majority of Americans Champions Renewables, Poll Finds

Source: DIANE CARDWELL • New York Times  • Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The partisan battle over the cause of the increase in gasoline prices has escalated as the average price of a gallon has crept closer to $4, with Republicans accusing President Obama for investing too much in alternative sources of energy at the expense of conventional fuels and Democrats blaming geopolitics and instability around the Persian Gulf.

Now comes a survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press suggesting that more Americans may be moving toward the Republican way of thinking on conventional energy.

A majority of Americans still view developing alternatives like solar, wind and hydrogen power as more important than increasing production of oil, coal and natural gas, the survey found. But that majority has narrowed markedly from a year ago, the Pew poll showed. In the study, conducted this month, 52 percent of the 1,503 adults surveyed deemed developing alternative sources as the more important priority in meeting the nation’s energy needs. Thirty-nine percent said that expanding exploration and production of conventional sources was more important.

A year ago, 63 percent said alternative energy development was more important while 29 percent favored oil, coal and gas.

The partisan divide in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, was even starker: 89 percent of Republicans favored allowing more offshore drilling as opposed to 50 percent of Democrats, with independents falling in between at 64 percent. Conversely, 81 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents favored more federal spending on alternative energy, as opposed to 52 percent of Republicans.

At the same time, overall support for offshore oil and gas drilling has rebounded to the levels that existed before the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the survey found. Sixty-five percent of respondents supported more drilling offshore, up from 57 percent a year ago and 44 percent in June 2010 during the BP spill.

The survey also found limited public awareness of the drilling technique known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Twenty-six percent said they had heard a lot about the process while 37 percent had heard a little and 37 percent had heard nothing. Among those who had heard at least a little, 52 percent supported its use while 35 percent said they were opposed.