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Energy Policy More Influential than Environment on Presidential Candidate Preference Americans split on safety of many energy sources and viability of "fracking"

NEW YORK, Oct. 31, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- With the presidential campaign in its final days each candidate's policies are under constant review.  While every individual American has his or her own set of priorities as to which policies contribute most to their support of one candidate over another, Americans as a whole seem to be placing higher importance on energy policy (with 77% rating it either very important or important) than on its frequent sparring partner, environmental policy (67%); in fact, among the policy areas tested, environmental policy appears to be the least influential over Americans' likely presidential choice.

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This is not to say that environmental policy is unimportant to voters; rather, all policy types measured are considered either very important or important by strong majorities of Americans, and it is simply influencing a smaller majority than other policy areas; top influencers include economic/budget (88%), tax (86%), jobs (86) and healthcare (85%) policies.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,562 adults surveyed online between September 17 and 24, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

While perceived importance grows with age for most policy areas, perhaps the most telling generational shift can be found in the dynamic between energy and environmental policy.  Among Americans ages 18-35, 66% place importance energy policy, 63% on environmental policy – a gap of only three percentage points.  However, that gap grows dramatically in older age groups, to 10 percentage points among 36-47 year olds (74%-64%), 13 points among 48-66 year olds (83%-70%) and 16 points among those 67 and older (90%-74%).

Mixed Opinions on Environmental Impact of Many Energy Sources and "Fracking" Concerns

As might be expected, solar and wind are the energy sources least often identified as environmentally unsound, with 4% and 5% of Americans, respectively, describing them as either very harmful or harmful to the environment.  Hydropower was also seen as relatively low impact, with only 8% seeing it in this light; there does appear to be some confusion though, with one-fourth (25%) indicating they are not at all sure.

On the other end of the spectrum, nuclear power is the energy source Americans most frequently identify as very harmful or harmful to the environment (48%), followed by clean coal (34%). 

The energy source Americans clearly feel least informed about is biomass; while just over two in ten (12%) identified it as very harmful or harmful, with over twice as many (27%) perceiving it as either not that harmful or not at all harmful, the majority (61%) are not at all sure.

Falling into the middle of the spectrum, so to speak, is natural gas:  fewer than one-fourth of Americans (23%) perceive natural gas as either very harmful or harmful to the environment, while four in ten (40%) rate it not that harmful and roughly two in ten (19%) perceive it as not at all harmful; an additional 18% are not at all sure.

Looking more closely at issues related to natural gas, a growing topic of discussion U.S. energy and environmental policy talks, Americans are split in their attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") – the process by which natural gas is extracted natural gas from shale rock deep within the earth.  Potential risks include damage to the environment, minor earthquakes and increased water usage; while potential benefits include job creation, economic growth and a domestic supply of energy.  Americans are evenly divided between those perceiving the potential benefits as outweighing the risks (31%) and vice versa (32%), with nearly one-third on each side of the argument.  An additional 38% are not at all sure, indicating that there is more education needed on the process and its implications.

Men are more likely to perceive the potential benefits of fracking as outweighing the risks (41%) than vice versa (30%), while women show a stronger likelihood to perceive the risks as outweighing potential benefits (33%, vs. 21% indicating the opposite).  Women are also significantly more likely than men to indicate being not at all sure (46% women, 29% men).

So what?

"Even after the election is over, energy will remain an important subject for Americans because it is also central to so many other policies, especially economic, jobs and environmental policies," says Harris Interactive Vice President and Senior Consultant Sarah Simmons.  "In addition, energy pricing has a significant impact on families – whether it is in the prices they pay at the pump OR in the impact energy prices have on the ability of large and small businesses to increase the workforce.  This unique role that energy plays in our nation's economic health and our way of life will continue to keep the issues on the front burner."

"Natural gas is viewed differently than more traditional energy sources, like nuclear or coal," adds Simmons, "as these numbers illustrate.  However, the public's view of natural gas is still evolving, as seen in the divided attitudes toward hydraulic fracturing."

 

TABLE 1A

IMPACT OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' POLICIES ON VOTING DECISION

"How important is a presidential candidate's policy in each of the following areas to making your decision on who to vote for?"

Base: All U.S. adults


IMPORTANT

[NET]

Very important

Important

NOT IMPORTANT

[NET]

Not that

important

Not at all important

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Economic/ Budget policy

88

65

23

4

2

2

7

Tax policy

86

57

29

7

4

2

7

Jobs policy

86

59

27

8

5

2

7

Healthcare policy

85

64

21

8

5

3

7

Foreign policy

78

43

35

14

10

4

8

Energy policy

77

37

40

16

12

4

8

Homeland security policy

75

40

35

17

12

5

8

Education policy

74

41

33

19

13

5

8

Immigration policy

72

40

33

20

14

6

8

Environmental policy

67

30

38

24

18

7

8

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 1B

IMPACT OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' POLICIES ON VOTING DECISION – By Generation

"How important is a presidential candidate's policy in each of the following areas to making your decision on who to vote for?"

Percent saying "Very important" or "Important" [NET]

Base: All adults


Total

Generation

Echo

Boomers

(18-35)

Gen. X

(36-47)

Baby

Boomers

(48-66)

Matures

(67+)

%

%

%

%

%

Economic/ Budget policy

88

79

87

96

96

Tax policy

86

75

84

94

98

Jobs policy

86

77

83

93

91

Healthcare policy

85

75

84

91

97

Foreign policy

78

67

71

86

94

Energy policy

77

66

74

83

90

Homeland security policy

75

63

71

83

87

Education policy

74

71

73

74

79

Immigration policy

72

61

69

77

91

Environmental policy

67

63

64

70

74

% points difference between Energy & Environmental policies

10

3

10

13

16

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 2

PERCEIVED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ENERGY SOURCES

"How would you rate the impact of the following energy sources on the environment?"

Base: All U.S. adults


Harmful

(NET)

Very harmful to the environment

Harmful to the environment

Not harmful

(NET)

Not that harmful to the environment

Not at all harmful to the environment

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Nuclear power

48

26

22

32

24

8

20

Clean coal

34

9

25

42

31

11

24

Natural gas

23

4

18

60

40

19

18

Biomass

12

4

8

27

18

10

61

Hydropower

8

1

6

67

31

36

25

Wind

5

1

4

83

20

63

12

Solar

4

2

3

85

19

66

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 3

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RISKS VS. BENEFITS PERCEPTIONS – By Gender

"Thinking about Hydraulic Fracturing or 'Fracking,' which is a process of extracting natural gas from shale rock that is buried deep within the earth, which of the following is closer to your opinion?"

Base: All adults


TOTAL

Gender

Male

Female

%

%

%

The risks (including damage to the environment, minor earthquakes, and increased water usage) outweigh the benefits (including job creation, economic growth, and a domestic supply of energy)

32

30

33

The benefits (including job creation, economic growth, and a domestic supply of energy) outweigh the risks (including damage to the environment, minor earthquakes, and increased water usage)

31

41

21

Not at all sure

38

29

46

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 17 and 24, 2012 among 2,562 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #60, October 31, 2012

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll® and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research. Harris possesses expertise in a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing our client's research investment. Serving clients in more than 196 countries and territories through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us - and our clients—stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Press Contact:
Corporate Communications
Harris Interactive
212-539-960
press@harrisinteractive.com

 

SOURCE Harris Interactive



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