Public Blames Oil and Electric Companies Most for Current Energy Problems

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Seven in 10 Americans see limited availability and high prices as crisis or major problem

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows that, while relatively few Americans view the current energy situation as a "crisis," seven in 10 believe the availability and high cost of energy are at least a major problem for the country. Americans are most likely to blame oil and electric companies for the current energy problems, rather than politicians or consumers. Still, two-thirds of the public believes that Americans must make real changes to their lifestyle to help resolve the energy problems.

The poll, conducted May 18-20, shows that 12% of Americans think the availability and high prices of electricity, gasoline, natural gas and other energy sources constitute a crisis. Additionally, 59% think limited availability and higher energy prices represent a major problem, 25% think they are a minor problem, and only 3% do not see them as a problem at all. There are slight differences by region, with those living in the South and West more likely to think the limited availability and high prices represent a crisis.

Despite nearly 20-cent increases in the average price of gasoline in the last several weeks, there has been little recent change in public opinion on this issue. A January 15-16 poll found 14% of Americans describing energy prices and availability as a crisis, 54% as a major problem and 29% as a minor problem.

Americans See High Price of Gasoline as Biggest Problem

The energy crisis has manifested itself in several ways, including higher prices for gasoline, electricity, natural gas and home heating oil as well as electricity shortages in some parts of the country, especially the West. Of these, the public is most likely to view gasoline prices as the biggest problem, with 19% characterizing gas prices as being in a state of crisis and 60% saying they are a major problem. Electricity shortages and the price of natural gas or home heating oil rank as second-tier concerns, with roughly 70% describing each as a crisis or major problem. The price of electricity is rated as the least serious of the problems, with 61% rating it that seriously.

 

2001 May 18-20
(sorted by "crisis")

State
of crisis

Major problem

Minor problem

Not a
problem

%

%

%

%

Price of gasoline

19

60

17

3

Shortages of electricity

17

52

19

10

Price of natural gas or home heating oil

14

58

17

6

Price of electricity

11

50

28

9



Those living in the Southern and Western parts of the country are much more likely to rate electricity shortages as a crisis. In fact, perhaps not surprisingly, 88% of those in the West see electricity shortages as a crisis or major problem. Those residing in the West are also most likely to see the price of electricity as a crisis, much more so than people living in other parts of the country. The price of gasoline, on the other hand, is rated as a more serious problem by those in the East, Midwest and South. There are no large regional differences in regard to the price of natural gas and home heating oil.

Americans Give Most Blame to Business

The poll asked Americans how much blame each of several groups deserves for the country's current energy problems. Generally, businesses receive the greatest amount of blame from the public. Nearly nine in 10 Americans believe that U.S. oil companies deserve at least some blame for the energy problems, which includes a majority who think they deserve a great deal of blame. Eighty-five percent of the public perceives U.S. electric companies as worthy of blame, including 42% who think they deserve a great deal of blame. Americans also assign responsibility to foreign countries that produce oil, with 81% believing they deserve at least some blame.

Americans place less blame on their own government. Even though more than eight in 10 think Congress deserves at least some blame for the current energy situation, only 31% believe it deserves a great deal of blame. About seven in 10 Americans blame the Clinton administration, but only about half of the public thinks the current Bush administration deserves blame. In fact, the Bush administration is seen as least responsible among the eight entities tested, even less so than environmental laws and regulations and American consumers.

 

2001 May 18-20
(sorted by "great deal")


Great deal

Some


Great deal/
Some

Not much/ None at all

%

%

%

%

U.S. oil companies

52

35

87

11

Foreign countries that produce oil

44

37

81

17

U.S. electric companies

42

43

85

13

Congress

31

51

82

15

The Clinton administration

28

40

68

29

Environmental laws and regulations

23

47

70

26

American consumers

22

47

69

30

The current Bush administration

20

34

54

44



Public Believes Changes in Lifestyle Necessary

Some have argued that in addition to legislation designed to address energy problems, Americans must change their lifestyles by buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, using less electricity and buying more energy-efficient appliances. The Bush administration, however, takes the opposite view, saying that energy problems can be solved without asking Americans to make major changes to the way they live. Two-thirds of the public, though, believes that Americans must make real changes to help solve energy problems, while just 30% do not believe this. A majority of every key subgroup thinks that real changes in lifestyle are necessary, though Republicans, men and younger Americans are less likely to go along with this sentiment than are others.

Survey Methods

The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 18-20, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 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.

Now, thinking about the cost and availability of electricity, gasoline, natural gas, and other forms of energy, would you say the country -- [ROTATED: is in a state of crisis, has major problems, has minor problems, (or) has no problems at all]?

BASED ON -- 481 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

State
of crisis

Major problems

Minor problems

No
problems

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

12%

59

25

3

1

           

2001 Jan 15-16

14%

54

29

3

*

           

* Less than 0.5%

         


Would you say, in the U.S., that each of the following -- [ROTATED: is in a state of crisis, is a major problem, is a minor problem, (or) is not a problem at all]? How about the -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON -- 529 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

A. Shortages of electricity

 

 

State
of crisis

Major problem

Minor problem

Not a
problem

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

17%

52

19

10

2



B. Price of electricity

 

 

State
of crisis

Major problem

Minor problem

Not a
problem

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

11%

50

28

9

2



C. Price of gasoline

 

 

State
of crisis

Major problem

Minor problem

Not a
problem

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

19%

60

17

3

1



D. Price of natural gas or home heating oil

 

 

State
of crisis

Major problem

Minor problem

Not a
problem

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

14%

58

17

6

5



Please tell me whether you think each of the following deserves a great deal of blame, some blame, not much blame, or no blame at all for the country's current energy problems. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. The current Bush administration

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

20%

34

18

26

2



B. The Clinton administration

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

28%

40

14

15

3



C. Congress

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

31%

51

9

6

3



D. U.S. oil companies

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

52%

35

6

5

2



E. U.S. electric companies

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

42%

43

8

5

2



F. Environmental laws and regulations

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

23%

47

14

12

4



G. Foreign countries that produce oil

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

44%

37

9

8

2



H. American consumers

 

 

Great deal
of blame

Some
blame

Not much blame

No blame
at all

No
opinion

           

2001 May 18-20

22%

47

13

17

1



Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: Americans can retain their lifestyle and the country's current energy problems can still be solved, (or) Americans must make real changes in their lifestyle in order for the country's current energy problems to be solved]?

 

 


Can retain lifestyle and solve energy problems


Must make real changes to solve
energy problems



No
opinion

       

2001 May 18-20

30%

67

3



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