World

In Latin America, Less Than Half Familiar With Ethanol

by Ian T. Brown

Majority of those familiar with ethanol likely to support its use

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Across the Caribbean and Latin America, where Brazil has become a world leader in oil alternatives, Gallup finds only a handful of countries where a majority of respondents have heard of the alternative, sugar- or corn-based biofuel called ethanol. The regional median percentage of respondents in Latin America and the Caribbean who have heard of ethanol is 47%.

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Of the 20 countries polled in Latin America and the Caribbean, only in eight -- Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Panama -- have majorities of respondents who have heard of ethanol. In Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mexico, fewer than 4 in 10 have heard of it.

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David Rothkopf, coauthor of 2007's Blueprint for Green Energy in the Americas, called Latin America the "Persian Gulf of biofuels." The Americas produce 80% of the world's biofuels, with Brazil and its sugar cane-based ethanol leading the pack. Guatemala, Peru, and Colombia are also poised to translate their domestic sugar cane into ethanol production.

However, many in Latin America and the Caribbean are unaware of ethanol as an alternative fuel. Moreover, fears of ethanol production causing a rise in food prices -- because of higher global demand for corn -- have caused Venezuelan and Cuban leaders to disapprove of corn-based ethanol, and even sparked protests in Mexico in January 2007. Furthermore, economic interests may also be at play, as Mexico and Venezuela are Latin America's largest oil producers.

Gallup does find in Latin America a connection between awareness of ethanol and support for its use over gasoline. Among those respondents who have heard of ethanol, Gallup asked if they would vote for a hypothetical referendum that would start replacing gasoline for ethanol. With the exception of Venezuela, a majority of respondents in each Latin American and Caribbean country surveyed would vote to replace gasoline for ethanol.

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Only in Peru and Ecuador was there significant change in opinion between 2007 and 2008. In Peru, the proportion of respondents who would vote for the referendum fell by 11%. In Ecuador, the proportion fell by 10%. These two countries have among the lowest percentage of respondents who have heard of ethanol.

Overall, the median percentage of Latin American and Caribbean respondents who have heard of ethanol and who would vote to start replacing gasoline with it is 71%. While high, this proportion did not change significantly between 2007 and 2008, at a time when experts were celebrating the possibility of Latin American and Caribbean countries increasing their production and use of biofuels. Awareness may be a key factor: If the current pattern continues, those who become familiar with ethanol have a strong likelihood of supporting its use. However, as the protests in Mexico show, Latin Americans must also agree on whether the perceived benefits of ethanol production outweigh the perceived costs.

Survey Methods

For the "awareness of ethanol" question, results are based on face-to-face interviews with 502 to 1,038 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela between 2007 and 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.1 to ±4.8 percentage points.

For the "referendum on ethanol use" question, results are based on face-to-face interviews with 215 to 699 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela between 2007 and 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±4.0 to ±9.7 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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