On energy and environment, Americans want it all

A new poll from Gallup shows the American public generally backing a comprehensive – and perhaps contradictory – array of methods for resolving energy and environmental issues.

The poll also finds support for such initiatives softening as a wide gap opens between Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans were more likely to favor drilling in newly opened public lands and ramping up nuclear power. Democrats, on the other hand, leaned toward emissions controls (for greenhouse gases like CO2), renewable energy solutions such as solar, wind, geothermal and even biomass, and putting more teeth in existing environmental regulations and the entities who enforce them.

The poll of 1,024 adults, conducted March 8-11, confirms one thing: Americans want the whole enchilada. This broad-based support for all manner of solutions showed only one or two exceptions (scores below the 50th percentile): Democrats and “leaners” (i.e., undecideds) did not want to see an expansion of nuclear energy—no surprise after Fukushima—or to have public lands opened for oil and gas exploration; and Republicans did not want stronger enforcement of federal environmental regulations, or an increase in auto emissions standards.

That partisan divide showed up, as well, in a Pew Research Center poll last November, in which P83 percent of Democrats backed increased funding for alternative-energy research, while Republican support—at 82 percent just two years ago—had slid to 53 percent. Overall, 68 percent of Americans surveyed by Pew favored more such spending, with 26 percent opposed.

The poll also noted that support for many proposals had declined since the last survey, in 2007—just before the recession took hold—with the biggest losses evident in federal expenditures to develop alternative vehicle fuels, reinforcing environmental regulations and creating more stringent auto emission rules.

All in all, the poll results could be said to reflect a diminishing concern for environment in the face of a weak economy and higher unemployment—a diminution which The Economist argues is due not to regulatory fears or uncertainty but simply to weak demand.

Gallup said the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Jeanne Roberts, EarthTechling