Are Americans Losing Interest in Energy?

According to the latest University of Texas Energy Poll, Americans are becoming less energized about energy issues. Compared to any time in the past two years, they find energy less important, read about it less often and worry less about saving it at home. At the same time, they're more troubled about its environmental impacts, both from consuming fuels and from getting them out of the ground.

Poll results were released Oct. 17 by the McCombs School of Business, which surveyed 2,144 consumers between Sept. 5 and 23.

chart showing UT Energy Poll respondents
[Credit: Kim Brown] 

Since September 2011, the poll has taken a twice-yearly snapshot of consumer attitudes about energy. This fifth round paints a broader portrait of how they're changing over time. Energy is still a strong concern, deemed as important by 62 percent of respondents, down from 67 percent a year ago.

What isn't so clear is why interest is waning, says poll director Sheril Kirshenbaum. She suggests lighter news coverage as one factor.

"Prior to the election, energy was everywhere," she observes. "This year, there have been no major storms like Superstorm Sandy, or a major drought affecting people's livelihoods. The subject hasn't been thrown in front of them."

Kirshenbaum fears that lower interest may lead to lower energy literacy. She notes that 58 percent of the survey respondents named Saudi Arabia as America's largest source of imported oil. Only 13 percent gave the correct answer: Canada. Says Kirshenbaum, "There appears to be a lack of engagement and a lack of understanding on many issues."

To read more about the poll results, including Americans' responses to questions about climate change, natural gas, fracking, water issues and national energy policy, visit Texas Enterprise. Responses include:

  • Almost three of every four consumers believe global climate change is occurring. That figure has held steady over the past year, notes Kirshenbaum, up from 65 percent in March 2012.
  • Support for the Keystone XL pipeline has slid over the past year and a half, from 50 down to 41 percent. Approval for expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has followed a similar track, from 46 percent down to 40.
  • Support for natural gas development remains strong, at 61 percent. Consumers see jobs and lower prices as the fuel's top benefits, and 57 percent also believe its production reduces carbon emissions.
  • Among those familiar with hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," support has declined from 48 to 38 percent. The percentage wanting more regulation has climbed 5 points, to 43, with water contamination as the No. 1 fear.
  • Forty-eight percent are dissatisfied with President Barack Obama's handling of energy issues, versus 22 percent who are satisfied. For Congress, the negative numbers are even more lopsided: 62 percent con, 9 percent pro.
  • Seventy percent of respondents concerned about depletion of water resources. Water is a bigger worry than energy conservation, renewables and carbon emissions.

View a presentation of the October 2013 poll results in the video below. In three other videos, the researchers focus on findings related to waterclimate change, and hydraulic fracturing. For more information, visit the UT Energy Poll website.

Or check out the Energy Poll presentation slides on SlideShare

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