Public Wary of Sequestration, Not Clean Energy

Amy Harder

A large majority of Americans support a pair of congressional efforts to create an economy based on cleaner-energy sources, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.

Almost two-thirds—64 percent—of those surveyed said that Congress should extend federal tax credits that encourage production of alternative-energy sources, such as wind, that are due to expire at year’s end. In a separate question, 64 percent of respondents said they support enactment of a clean-energy standard, which would require the country to produce a higher percentage of its electricity from cleaner sources of energy.

The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,004 adults by landline and cell phone from May 17-20, 2012. It has a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.

The poll’s findings indicate a disconnect between what the public says it wants and what this Congress is able or willing to do on energy policy, which in an election year is mostly nil.

In a visit on Thursday to Iowa—the country’s second-largest wind-producing state after Texas—President Obama will urge Congress to extend a key production tax credit for wind and a clean-energy manufacturing credit. Congress is unlikely to consider these tax credits until year’s end when lawmakers take up the annual “tax-extenders” package. Whether congressional supporters of the tax credits, including senior Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, can muster enough support to extend the credits remains uncertain and likely depends on the outcome of the elections. Action this year on a clean-energy standard measure introduced by retiring Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is very unlikely no matter how Election Day goes.

While support for these clean-energy policies was predictably stronger among Democrats and independents than Republicans, respondents identifying with the GOP were split. Almost half of Republicans said they support extending clean-energy tax credits (48 percent) and enacting a clean-energy standard (47 percent). That support is not reflected in Washington, where most congressional Republicans shun clean-energy policies, especially an energy mandate, in favor of less government involvement and reducing the deficit.


Support for the two policies was higher among blacks and Hispanics, younger people, and earners making less than $30,000 a year. For example, 61 percent of whites said they support extending clean-energy tax credits, but 72 percent of Hispanics and blacks said they do. Just over three-quarters of respondents between ages 18 and 29 said they support extending the tax credits, while 54 percent of respondents older than 50 said they do.

Although Washington and the public appear disconnected on clean-energy policy, they’re more united on another key energy issue: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial technology used to develop deposits of shale natural gas and oil recently discovered in many regions of the country.

A slight majority of Americans are aligned with the Obama administration’s recent action to regulate fracking, according to the survey: 53 percent said they support increasing federal regulation of fracking; 25 percent said they support decreasing federal regulations to encourage more natural-gas production. Only 15 percent said that the country should completely ban fracking because of the environmental concerns, including worries that it could contaminate drinking-water supplies and worsen climate change.

The administration is very unlikely to support a complete ban on fracking. But it has in the past month announced two regulations, including one to cut air emissions from fracking and another requiring companies drilling on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. The federal government has in the past left fracking regulation to states, but the shale-gas boom and escalating environmental concerns have prompted the administration to step in.

Majorities of Democrats (60 percent) and independents (55 percent) said that the federal government should increase regulations, while almost a quarter (24 percent) of independents agreed with 41 percent of Republicans that the government should decrease regulations to stimulate more energy production.

Respondents in the East, which includes Appalachian states such as Pennsylvania that are ground zero for the shale-gas boom, are the least supportive of fracking. But even there, only 18 percent back a complete ban. Exactly half support increasing federal regulations.

Meanwhile, Americans seem the most divided over what Washington should do with the impending automatic cuts of $600 billion in both domestic programs and defense spending, which Congress agreed last summer to impose at year’s end if it couldn’t reach an agreement to reduce the deficit.

A plurality (41 percent) said that Congress should uphold the original agreement to equally balance the cuts between defense and domestic programs, but another 26 percent said that Congress should cut more from domestic programs and less from defense. Yet another 20 percent said Congress should strike the entire deal and not impose any cuts at all.

A majority of Democrats (54 percent) said that the agreement should stay as is, but fewer independents (43 percent) and Republicans (32 percent) agreed with that position. Almost half (44 percent) of Republicans said that more cuts should come from domestic programs to preserve defense spending. Respondents with a high school degree or less seemed to be the least supportive of keeping the agreement as it is—just 36 percent supported the status quo.