AUSTIN, Texas — Partisan politics are polarizing Americans’ views of several controversial energy issues, including the Keystone XL pipeline and hydraulic fracturing, according to the latest version of The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll.
The nationwide online poll, conducted March 4–13, shows that 72 percent of Republicans who say they are familiar with Keystone XL support its construction, compared with only 28 percent of Democrats familiar with the project.
Overall, less than half (42 percent) of the 2,078 survey respondents are familiar with Keystone XL, the final segment of a pipeline system that runs from western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Construction of this last phase, which has yet to be approved, has become a lightning rod for contentious public debate.
Nearly 2 out of 3 Republicans (62 percent) say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who favors completion of Keystone XL, compared with only 29 percent of Democrats surveyed. That said, overall support among survey respondents for candidates who favor construction of the pipeline has declined, from 46 percent six months ago to 39 percent today.
“We’re seeing a continuing divergence of views on key energy issues that clearly tracks political party lines,” said UT Energy Poll Director Sheril Kirshenbaum.
Somewhat surprisingly, only 7 percent of the Democrats surveyed who are familiar with Keystone XL and oppose its construction cite climate change as a top concern.
Among all survey respondents, environmental degradation is the top reason they oppose the pipeline (36 percent) followed by the risk of water contamination (14 percent).
Among those familiar with Keystone XL who support its construction, respondents point to greater energy independence (26 percent), job creation (25 percent) and lower energy prices (25 percent) as principal reasons they favor the project.
Political affiliations also influence perceptions of hydraulic fracturing for domestic oil and gas production, which has increased dramatically during the past decade and is seen as a key contributor to lower oil prices. Among survey respondents familiar with the technology, 65 percent of Republicans support hydraulic fracturing, compared with only 28 percent of Democrats.
Just 44 percent of Americans say they are familiar with hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Among them, more survey respondents say they oppose it (44 percent) than support it (42 percent) for the first time.
Support for hydraulic fracturing on public lands also has declined. Among survey respondents familiar with the practice, 42 percent say its use should be banned on public lands, compared with 34 percent a year ago.
Again, political ideology appears to be a key determinant of respondents’ views, with 57 percent of Democrats supporting a ban of hydraulic fracturing on public lands, compared with only 23 percent of Republicans. Conversely, 56 percent of Republicans say hydraulic fracturing on public lands should be promoted, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats surveyed.
The UT Energy Poll showed strong support for allowing cities to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, even if state law otherwise permits it. Among respondents familiar with fracking, 58 percent say cities should be permitted to outlaw its use, while only 25 percent say municipalities should not have the authority to ban it locally.
“At present, it appears a large majority of Americans think cities should have the right to decide if they want to ban fracking locally,” Kirshenbaum noted.
Other findings in the UT Energy Poll:
- Seventy percent of respondents say that climate change is occurring. This includes 86 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans.
- Sixty-six percent of consumers consider today’s gas prices high, down from 93 percent one year ago — although they don’t expect low prices at the pump to last very long.
- Eighteen percent say job creation is their top priority in terms of federal tax spending, down from 36 percent when the question was asked for the first time in September 2011.
The UT Energy Poll was launched in October 2011 to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key energy issues. The survey is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development. Data from the poll were weighted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual U.S. population.