Americans Prioritize Energy Over Environment for First Time

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Data represent a continuing shift in opinion toward energy production

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are more likely to say the U.S. should prioritize development of energy supplies than to say it should prioritize protecting the environment, the first time more have favored energy production over environmental protection in this question's 10-year history.

2001-2010 Trend: Higher Priority for Energy Production or Environmental Protection

The March 4-7 Gallup poll was conducted a few weeks before President Obama came out in favor of oil exploration off some sections of the U.S. coast, and shortly after he advocated the expanded use of nuclear power in the United States.

The current data represent a continuing shift in opinion toward energy production. Since 2007, when Americans' preferences for environmental protection were the greatest (58% to 34%), Americans' opinions have shown significant movement each year in the direction of prioritizing energy production. This change has been evident among nearly every major demographic subgroup, although self-identified liberals have remained relatively steadfast in saying the environment should be a higher priority.

At the same time, Americans continue to advocate greater energy conservation by consumers (52%) over greater production of oil, gas, and coal supplies (36%) as a means of solving the nation's energy problems. Americans have always come out in favor of greater consumer conservation, though this year marks the highest percentage favoring production (by a percentage point) in the last 10 years.

2001-2010 Trend: Better Solution to Energy Problems: More Production or More Conservation

The movement toward pro-production attitudes comes at a time when Americans' concerns about the U.S. energy situation have subsided. Thirty-three percent of Americans describe the energy situation in the United States as "very serious," down from 42% last year and the lowest since 2005. Additionally, 45% expect the U.S. to face a critical energy shortage in the next five years, down sharply from 62% in 2008, when gas prices were soaring, and the lowest Gallup has measured in the last 10 years. (See the tables on Page 2 for the full trends on these questions.)

One possible explanation for the greater public priority on energy production at a time of diminished concern about energy is that Americans typically become somewhat less likely to say they favor environmental protection during down economic times. In the same March 4-7 poll, Gallup also found a new high in the percentage of Americans favoring economic growth over environmental protection.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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.

1977-2010 Detailed Trend: How Serious Would You Say the Energy Situation Is in the United States?

1978-2010 Detailed Trend: Do You Think That the United States Is or Is Not Likely to Face a Critical Energy Shortage During the Next Five Years?

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