Support for federal backing of renewables slips, driven by GOP skepticism
By Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen,
Support for putting federal funds into alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen has slipped to its lowest point in polls since 2006, driven by growing Republican opposition to such initiatives, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.
The new findings, which follow the bankruptcy of solar panel maker Solyndra and the ongoing congressional probe of the Obama administration’s loan-guarantee program for renewable-energy ventures, show that attitudes toward renewable energy have diverged between the two parties.
Renewable energy still remains more popular than traditional fossil fuels, with 68 percent of respondents in favor of federal backing for it. But this is a sharp decline from the roughly eight in 10 who favored increasing federal spending on renewable energy from 2006 to through early 2010.
Among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, support for renewable energy funding has slumped to 53 percent, 30 percentage points lower than Democratic backing. Democratic support remains at more than 80 percent.
From 2006 to 2009, more than eight in 10 Republicans and Democrats alike favored the idea of supporting alternative energy. But since then, there has been a stark partisan divide, with support among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents falling significantly.
Republicans are also more broadly opposed to government investment in developing new energy technologies than they were at the beginning of the Obama administration.
Edward Maibach, who directs the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, said he was “not at all surprised to see increasing polarization in support for clean energy between liberals and conservatives. In the current hyper-partisan environment, every news story of note is nearly instantly reframed to make a partisan point.”
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, argued that the shift in support makes sense given the media coverage many Republicans receive from outlets such as Fox News.
“It is not surprising that support for federal funding for clean energy drops among Republicans when their major source of information is a ‘news’ network that is pushing an anti-environment, anti-science, anti-government agenda 24/7,” Karpinski wrote in an e-mail.
However, Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the findings suggested Americans are more open to the oil and gas industry’s message that fossil fuels are more reliable job creators.
“When the administration came to town, they set expectations very high,” Gerard said. “The public is now seeing a commotion around Solyndra and are asking, ‘This is the best we can do? Where are the jobs?’ ”
Support for other forms of energy extraction remained less popular than renewables, but also unchanged over the year. Some 58 percent back federal support for additional offshore oil and gas drilling; an identical percentage favors more mining and drilling on federal land.
Respondents were less enthusiastic about backing nuclear energy, at 39 percent, or providing subsidies for ethanol production, at 38 percent.
For nuclear energy, there has been no resurgence in support since Pew reported declining support after the nuclear crisis in Japan this spring.
Overall, a somewhat slimmer majority sees government investment as necessary to spur energy technologies. Fifty-two percent of respondents view government action as essential; 58 percent said so in April 2009. About four in 10, 39 percent, say businesses will produce advances without federal outlays.
The telephone poll was conducted Nov. 3 to 6 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.