Politics

Disaster in Japan Raises Nuclear Concerns in U.S.

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Americans divided over construction of nuclear power plants in U.S.

PRINCETON, NJ -- Seven in 10 Americans say they are more concerned about a nuclear disaster occurring in the United States after the recent events in Japan, including 39% who say they are "a lot more concerned."

Have the recent events in Japan made you a lot more concerned, a little more concerned, or not more concerned about a nuclear disaster occurring in the United States? March 2011

The results are based on a March 15 USA Today/Gallup poll conducted as Japan struggles to avoid a nuclear meltdown after last Friday's earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear power plants there.

The events in Japan may also be diminishing Americans' support for the use of nuclear power in the United States. The poll finds 44% in favor and 47% opposed to "the construction of nuclear power plants in the United States."

Do you favor or oppose the construction of nuclear power plants in the United States? March 2011

In recent years, Gallup and other polling organizations have usually found more support than opposition for nuclear power. This includes Gallup's annual Environment survey -- conducted March 3-6, before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami -- which found 57% of Americans saying they strongly or somewhat favor "the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S.," with 38% strongly or somewhat opposed. Support peaked at 62% last year on this question, which was first asked in 1994. Whether the disaster in Japan will have a long-term impact on Americans' attitudes toward nuclear power as measured by this trend question remains to be seen.

1994-2011 Trend: Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S.?

The March 15 poll finds subgroup divisions by gender and politics that are similar to those for other questions Gallup has asked about nuclear power. After the incident in Japan, a majority of men favor the construction of nuclear power plants in the United States, while a majority of women are opposed. And most Republicans are in favor of nuclear power plant construction, while most Democrats are opposed.

The poll also finds that support for the construction of nuclear power plants rises with education level.

Favor/Oppose Construction of Nuclear Power Plants in U.S., by Subgroup, March 2011

Americans Say Their Concern About U.S. Tsunami, Earthquake Growing

The poll also finds heightened concern about a major earthquake or tsunami occurring in the United States in the wake of the Japanese natural disaster. Sixty-four percent say they are more concerned about this happening in the U.S., including 25% who say they are "a lot more concerned."

Thus, the events unfolding in Japan have had a greater effect on Americans' concerns about a nuclear disaster (70% more concerned, 39% a lot more concerned) than about a natural disaster (64% more concerned, 25% a lot more concerned).

Implications

The disaster in Japan has precipitated arguably the greatest nuclear crisis the world has seen in more than two decades, since Chernobyl. Americans now say they are more concerned than before the disaster about a similar incident occurring in this country, which in turn has led to an apparent drop in support for nuclear power in the United States. It is not clear, however, what long-term impact the Japanese incident will have on Americans' support for nuclear power, which has been consistently above a majority and higher than it was a decade ago.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 15, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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.

For results based on the half-samples of approximately 500 national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 200 cell phone respondents and 800 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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