January 23, 2017

Two-thirds of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy over fossil fuels

President Donald Trump is promising major changes on climate and energy policy, including efforts to increase production from fossil fuel energy sources such as coal. But a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 65% of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources, compared with 27% who would emphasize expanded production of fossil fuel sources.

Support for concentrating on alternative energy is up slightly since December 2014. At that time, 60% said developing alternative energy sources was the more important priority.

There continue to be wide political differences on energy priorities. While a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found large majorities of Democrats and Republicans supported expanding both wind and solar energy, the new survey shows that Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to stress that developing alternative energy should take priority over developing fossil fuel sources.

Report: The politics of climate change in the United States

About eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party favor developing alternative sources instead of expanding production from fossil fuel sources. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are closely divided: 45% say the more important priority should be developing alternative sources, while 44% say expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas should be given more priority.

There is an ideological divide in these views within the GOP. Among moderate and liberal Republicans and Republican leaners — who account for 36% of all Republicans and Republican leaners sampled – 65% prioritize developing alternative energy sources, compared with fewer (28%) who prioritize expanding production from fossil fuel sources. By contrast, conservative Republicans back the expansion of fossil fuels over developing alternative energy sources by a margin of 54% to 33%. Large majorities of both liberal Democrats (88%) and conservative and moderate Democrats (77%) prioritize alternative sources.

Political differences over energy priorities are broadly in keeping with polarized views on a wide range of climate and energy issues. For example, Pew Research Center has found that 88% of liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners say climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the United States, compared with just 12% of conservative Republicans and Republican leaners.

Fact Tank: Most Americans favor stricter environmental laws and regulations

There also are differences in public priorities about energy by age. Americans under the age of 50 are especially likely to support alternative energy sources over expanding fossil fuels. About seven-in-ten (73%) of those ages 18 to 49 say developing alternative sources of energy should be the more important priority, while 22% say expanding production of fossil fuels should be the more important priority. Older adults are more divided in their views, though they also give more priority to alternatives. Among those 50 and older, 55% say alternative energy development is more important, while 34% say it’s more important to expand production of fossil fuel energy sources.

Note: These findings are based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 4-9, 2017 with a nationally representative sample of 1,502 U.S. adults. The full methodology can be found here, and the questionnaire wording and topline are here (PDF).

Topics: Energy and Environment, U.S. Political Parties, Domestic Affairs and Policy, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Brian Kennedy

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

7 Comments

  1. G Reeves6 months ago

    People should be asked how much more they are willing to pay for solar and wind electricity. The pole result might be different. Wind and solar electric generation have been around long enough to compete without subsidies. Special tax breaks and subsidized purchase prices should be ended.

  2. Anonymous6 months ago

    if that was true about 2/3, trump would have got a lot fewer votes. this is the problem of polls in the real world.

  3. Anonymous6 months ago

    All that building new gas and oil pipelines and more drilling will accomplish is to lower oil and gas prices in the short-term so much that coal is totally uncompetitive, and by flooding the market, many high-cost fossil energy companies stock prices will go down, and possibly head towards bankruptcy. Then loss of capacity will drive costs up in the long-run, making oil & gas expensive again, which encourages even more renewable energy and efficiency investments since wind, solar and energy-efficiency are not subject to volatility in energy prices. Lack of volatility will drive long-term investors such as pension funds to divest oil & gas and invest in renewables/efficiency, driving up the cost of capital to oil & gas firms.
    The economic markets have already spoken, and it is strange for the US government to push old declining technology- sort of like King Canute going to the beach and telling the ocean tide not to come in, or funding steam engines for railroads. Technology marches on!

  4. katten elvis6 months ago

    You’re wrong, unsubsidized solar power recently became cheaper than coal and oil, and is still getting cheaper! Wind and Geothermal has already been cheap for a couple of years now. And i think you are also missing that the US spends Billions off dollars on Fossil Fuels subsidies already.

  5. Anonymous6 months ago

    If all of you want renewed energy, please be ready to subsidize it with government money. All renewable sources need substantial substantive subsidies. Green energy in theory is great but it is neither practical or profitable.

    1. katten elvis6 months ago

      You’re wrong, unsubsidized solar power recently became cheaper than coal and oil, and is still getting cheaper! Wind and Geothermal has already been cheap for a couple of years now. And i think you are also missing that the US spends Billions off dollars on Fossil Fuels subsidies already.

    2. Anonymous6 months ago

      Who cares about money?? Obviously not the U.S. because it’s about to spend millions building a pointless wall. Instead those millions could be used to help fund alternative energy sources. Preserving my planet is more important to me than building up a bank account…