NEW YORK, April 22, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- A notably severe winter has finally come to a close, and some Americans may soon see drops in their utility costs as a result. But how much do Americans really know about the various energy resources heating their homes, powering their entertainment centers and charging their mobile devices? What do Americans see as the cleanest – and most harmful – energy resources? And whatever the source supplying their grids with electricity, are Americans taking steps to use less of it?
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,221 adults, surveyed online between February 11 and 17, 2015. Full results, including data tables, are available here.
A majority of Americans – albeit a diminishing one – say they turn off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use in order to improve energy efficiency at home (75%, down from 79% in 2014 and 82% in 2012). There have also been drops in the percentage of Americans engaging in a number of other efficiency-boosting steps at home, including:
- Replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs (50%, down from 55% in 2014 and 58% in 2012),
- Looking for the ENERGY STAR label when replacing appliances (47% vs. 50% and 55%, respectively),
- Using low watt bulbs where lighting isn't critical (46% vs. 50% and 54%, respectively),
- Using power strips for home electronics (44% vs. 49% and 56%, respectively) and
- Reducing hot water use with steps like taking shorter showers or using cold water in their washer's rinse cycle (40% vs. 45% and 48%, respectively).
Men and women prefer to take action in different ways. While they differ little on steps like replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones (51% men, 49% women) and seeking out ENERGY STAR appliances (46%, 48%), women are considerably more likely to say they've taken steps to reduce hot water usage (46% women, 33% men). Men, in contrast, are more likely to say they've taken steps such as sealing gaps in floors and walls around pipes or wiring (33% men, 25% women), installing energy efficient windows (29%, 23%) and having a TV with Smart technology (23%, 17%).
Some regional differences also exist in energy-saving practices and adoptions. For example, nearly half of Southerners (47%) change their air filters monthly, in comparison to just two in ten (21%) Easterners, three in ten (29%) Westerners and a third (33%) of those in the Midwest. Meanwhile, nearly four in ten Westerners (37%) have installed low-flow faucets or showerheads, compared to fewer than one-fourth each of those in the East (22%), Midwest (23%) and South (24%).
And if knowledge is, in fact, power, then Americans would appear to have their wires crossed. On the one hand, more than six in ten (62%) believe themselves knowledgeable about energy issues including sources of electrical power and energy efficiency; on the other, only one in ten (11%) have looked to upgrade their knowledge in this particular area by conducting a home energy evaluation or audit.
"Even though understanding of energy sources remains at historical levels, in the last few years fewer consumers are taking steps to reduce energy consumption in their homes," says Carol M. Gstalder, Reputation & Public Relations Practice Leader for Harris Poll. "As energy prices drop, so do consumers' commitment to energy-saving decisions from replacing light bulbs and water heaters to installing solar."
Considering the source
Setting aside how much electricity Americans are using, it does all need to come from somewhere. When asked whether the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa, for several mainstream and emerging sources of electrical power in the U.S., Americans most commonly believe the benefits of solar (78%) and wind (75%) outweigh their risks.
Despite no small amount of controversy over the past few years, a strong majority of Americans also see natural gas's benefits outweighing its risks (66%). Additionally, half of Americans (50%) believe geothermal power's benefits outweigh the risks, while 8% say the risks outweigh the benefits and 42% are not at all sure – indicating a considerable knowledge gap but few negative sentiments.
Nuclear power, on the other hand, shows the inverse, with a 42% plurality believing its risks outweigh its benefits; 34% believe the benefits outweigh the risks and 24% are unsure. An even stronger – and growing – plurality (46%, up from 40% last year) believe coal's risks outweigh its benefits, while 34% feel its benefits outweigh its risks and 20% are unsure.
Biomass continues to be the biggest unknown, with six in ten U.S. adults (60%) not at all sure of its risks or benefits; three in ten (29%) feel its benefits outweigh its risks, while one in ten (11%) feel the inverse is true.
There are some generational differences on perceptions of various energy sources' benefits and risks. Perhaps most notably, older Americans are more likely than their younger counterparts to believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks (82% Matures, 76% Baby Boomers, 61% Gen Xers, 53% Millennials). Matures and Boomers (43% and 38%) are also more likely than Gen Xers and Millennials (29% and 31%) to feel the benefits of coal outweigh the risks.
Turning to political affiliations, Republicans are more likely than either Democrats or Independents to feel the benefits outweigh the risks for both natural gas (79% Republicans, 59% Democrats, 64% Independents) and nuclear power (51%, 24% and 31%, respectively).
When asked to select which two energy sources they believe are best for the environment, solar (69%) and wind (60%) are the leading responses by an exponential margin. Roughly one in ten Americans select hydro (11%), electric (11%), and oil and natural gas (10%), while 7% identify nuclear power.
When asked to identify which two sources are worst for the environment, Americans' top selection is coal (53%), followed by nuclear (39%).
Just under a quarter of Americans (23%) identify oil and natural gas as worst for the environment, while 16% point to home heating oil and roughly one in ten each select ethanol/bio fuel (10%) and propane (9%).
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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 11 and 17, 2015 among 2,221 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, The Harris Poll 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 Poll 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 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 The Harris Poll.
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The Harris Poll® #22, April 22, 2015
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll
About The Harris Poll®
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit the Harris Poll News Room.
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