Energy Crisis 2001: Where America Stands

by Jeffrey M. Jones

10 findings about American public opinion on energy

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Throughout the country, the average price of gasoline is approaching $2.00 per gallon and has exceeded that in some places. In California, the shortage of electricity has led to the implementation of "rolling blackouts," where power is temporarily cut off to conserve limited supplies of electricity. The prices of other energy sources, such as home heating oil and natural gas, also remain high. The Bush administration recently unveiled a major energy plan designed to address the nation's energy problems, and President Bush flew to California to meet with that state's governor, Gray Davis, to discuss the serious energy situation there.

Indeed, energy has not had such media prominence since the 1970s, when customers had to wait in long lines to fill their cars with gasoline. Every day, Americans are affected by the current energy problems, and this year Gallup has polled the public extensively on energy. Below is a summary of 10 key findings, with links to more detailed discussion and analysis on gallup.com.

1. Currently, Americans perceive energy to be the most important problem facing the country, displacing education and the economy at the top of the list. This marks a significant change from just a few months ago. About one in five adults in a recent survey mentions either gas prices or lack of energy sources as the nation's most important problem.

2. Fifty-eight percent of the public describes the energy situation in the United States as "very serious," according to a poll conducted in May, up sharply from a 31% reading in March. The previous high point on this measure was 47%, recorded in 1979 during the nation's previous energy crisis.

3. Similarly, about seven in 10 Americans think the availability of electricity, natural gas, and other forms of energy is either a major problem or is in a state of crisis.

4. Among several energy issues facing the country, Americans rate the price of gasoline as the most serious, and 79% characterize gas prices as being in a state of crisis or as being a major problem. The price of natural gas or home heating oil and shortages of electricity are rated as less serious problems, with the price of electricity seen as the least serious.

5. Forty-seven percent of Americans say that the rise in gas prices has caused them financial hardship, higher than the number affected at any point over the last two years. Lower-income Americans are especially likely to say they have been adversely affected by higher gas prices.

6. Americans are most likely to believe that U.S. oil companies, U.S. electric companies and foreign nations that produce oil deserve blame for the country's energy problems. The public assigns some blame to Congress, the Clinton administration, and the current Bush administration, but far less than it does to businesses and foreign nations. The Clinton administration gets slightly more blame from Americans than does the Bush administration.

7. Despite the unveiling of a comprehensive strategy to address the nation's energy problems, a majority of Americans do not think President Bush is doing enough to deal with the energy situation. More people have disapproved than approved of Bush's handling of the energy issue since he took office, and currently a majority of Americans (51%) disapprove.

8. Americans are divided in their view of the Bush energy plan, with 44% in favor and 42% opposed according to a May 18-20 poll. A majority of the public thinks the plan will help to solve the country's energy problems, but only after several years, as the plan is designed to do. Only about one in five Americans think the plan will not help at all. Reaction to the Bush energy plan is highly partisan, with Republicans strongly in favor of it and Democrats strongly opposed.

9. Americans have a consistent preference for conservation over production as a way of addressing the energy situation. In May, when asked which is the better approach to solving the nation's energy problems, 47% said a greater emphasis on conservation while 35% said a greater emphasis on production. A poll conducted in March showed even stronger support for conservation, by a 56% to 33% margin. At the same time, when asked to evaluate Bush's plan on conservation and production, a majority of Americans think the plan should attempt to do more in both areas.

10. When it comes to specifics, the public generally favors conservation-based proposals over more production-oriented proposals. For example, more support is found for investment in solar, wind and fuel cell power, and increased reliance on energy efficient cars, homes and appliances than for investing in more gas pipelines, electrical transmission lines and exploring for gas or oil on federal lands. Still, there is majority support for most energy solutions proposed in recent surveys – however, expanding the use of nuclear power and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge provide two notable exceptions.

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