NEW YORK – Recent news items – from rapidly increasing gasoline prices to rolling electricity blackouts – have forced Americans once again to pay attention to energy issues. However, this week’s FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll shows a public that is almost evenly divided on whether the country is experiencing an actual energy crisis; 45 percent think it is and 50 percent say they do not consider the current situation a crisis.
Despite the blackouts in California, opinion is also divided on relaxing environmental standards to make it easier to build new power plants (48 percent favor, 41 percent oppose). Opinion remains essentially unchanged on the issue since January of this year. On the issue of building more nuclear power plants, there has been a slight increase in those favoring the method as a way of meeting growing demand. Currently 49 percent favor building more nuclear power plants, up from 44 percent in January.
Overall, 41 percent think building new plants is the better way to meet the country’s future energy needs over requiring conservation (favored by 35 percent). Democrats and Independents are evenly divided between building plants and requiring conservation, while Republicans strongly favor increasing supply options. Men favor building over conservation by 47 percent to 30 percent compared to women who slightly favor conservation over building (39 percent to 34 percent).
Who do Americans blame for rising gas prices? For the most part, blame falls on oil companies (32 percent) and OPEC (19 percent). Nine percent blame the Bush administration, even though it has only been in place a few months. Little blame falls on consumers (6 percent) or on the auto industry and gas-guzzler cars (two percent).
"Since they were waiting in gas lines in the ‘70s, Americans have always had a skeptical attitude toward energy crises," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "They see the oil industry and some independent power producers rushing to cash in on the crisis and start to wonder if they are being taken. The fact that the Bush administration has such a density of oil industry executives and the fact they were pledged to many of their development policies before the crisis developed is going to contribute to the skepticism."
About one-third of Americans have changed their driving habits or travel plans due to higher gas prices, down from 40 percent reporting changed habits last summer (June 2000). Young people and those with lower household family incomes are more likely to say the increase in gas prices has caused them to make changes.
A majority (56 percent) would like to see the federal gasoline tax suspended until prices come down, including 60 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans. Again, opinion is divided on relaxing environmental standards to increase domestic oil and gas production (45 percent favor, 44 percent oppose). On this question and related questions, women are more likely than men are to oppose relaxing environmental standards.
Most Americans think the death penalty is the right punishment for Timothy McVeigh, whose scheduled execution for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City was delayed the day after polling was completed. The delay will no doubt lead to additional media attention to the execution story – a news story that 49 percent think the media have been paying too much attention (9 percent say too little attention and 30 percent say the right amount).
The public sees the threat from terrorism on U.S. soil coming from domestic terrorists like McVeigh equally as likely as from foreign terrorists. Only one-third say they would be willing to give up some personal freedoms to reduce the threat of terrorism, down from 60 percent who said so in August 1996. Forty-one percent think the federal government is doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks while 37 percent disagree.
Polling was conducted by telephone May 9-10, 2001 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.
1. I'm going to read the names of some political figures. Please tell me whether you have a generally favorable or unfavorable opinion of each. If you've never heard of someone, please just say so.
SCALE: 1. Favorable 2. Unfavorable 3. (Can't say) 4. (Never heard of)
George W. Bush
2. Dick Cheney
3. Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president?
4. Later this month, Timothy McVeigh will be executed by lethal injection for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that left 168 people dead. Do you think the death penalty is the right punishment for McVeigh’s crimes or not?
Compare to: Taking a specific case, Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of committing the Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people, is scheduled to be executed next month. Do you think the proper sentence for McVeigh is the death penalty or life in prison? (18-19 April 2001)
5. When McVeigh bombed the federal building, do you think:
Compare to: Do you think McVeigh acted alone, acted with just one accomplice, or as part of a larger group? (19-20 March 1997) (asked of 751 respondents who thought McVeigh was involved in bombing)
6. Do you think the media have been paying too much attention or too little attention to the McVeigh execution story?
7. McVeigh has asked to have his execution televised. Do you think that the execution should be televised or not?
8. Which do you believe is more of a threat on U.S. soil:
Compare to: Which do you believe is more of a threat on U.S. soil, terrorists from the Middle East or homegrown terrorists like the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber? (10-11 July 96)
9. Would you be willing to give up some of your personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism?
10. In the next five years, do you think you will actually have to make any changes in your day-to-day lifestyle in response to terrorist activity in the U.S.?
11. Which do you think presents more of a real danger right now:
SCALE: 1. Nuclear weapons 2. Chemical and biological weapons 3. (Equal) 4. (Not sure)
12. Do you think the federal government is doing enough to prevent terrorist activity in the U.S.?
13. With regard to Social Security, do you believe it should continue working as it currently does, or do you think people should have the option to invest a small part of their social security contributions in government-approved stock market funds?
SCALE: 1. Continue working as now 2. Option to invest privately 3. (Not sure)
*somewhat different wording
14. If it were possible for you to do so, do you think you would invest some of your own Social Security money in the stock market or not?
15. Oil and gas prices have risen sharply in recent months. Do you favor or oppose relaxing some environmental standards to increase oil and gas production in the United States?
*somewhat different wording
16. Do you think most people you know would be willing to relax some environmental standards if cities across the country continue to have electricity shortages and brownouts and blackouts?
17. Have higher gasoline prices caused you to change your driving habits or travel plans?
18. Do you think the federal gasoline tax should be suspended until gas prices come down?
19. If you had to choose only one option, which do you think is the better way to solve our country’s future energy needs:
20. Who do you think is most to blame for rising gasoline prices?
21. Some parts of the country are currently experiencing power shortages. Do you favor or oppose relaxing some environmental standards to make it easier to build new power plants?
*somewhat different wording
22. Do you favor or oppose building more nuclear power plants as a way of meeting the need for electrical power?
23. Do you think the country’s current energy situation is a crisis, or not?
24. What do you think you would enjoy the most about being president of the United States?
25. Do you think you look more like your mother or your father?
26. Overall, whose personality traits do you think you inherited – your father’s or your mother’s?
27. If stay-at-home moms were paid an annual salary, about how much do you think the salary should be?
28. Do you think of yourself as a supporter or opponent of George W. Bush?
29. (Asked of those under age 60) Which do you believe is more likely: