Election season is right around the corner, and unfortunately for those of us concerned with energy efficiency, energy policies and promises are once again getting short shrift in favor of the usual rhetoric. That’s understandable. Candidates must appeal to the pressing concerns of the voters. So, on some level, ignoring energy would seem like a safe bet—after all, it’s easy to assume that the lack of emphasis of energy issues on the campaign trail in favor of economic concerns and social politics merely reflects a similar ambivalence and lethargy among the general public.
But many opinion polls and surveys indicate the exact opposite, and that, in fact, energy efficiency is a priority for many citizens throughout the country. And politicians should take note—overwhelmingly, poll respondents and survey participants admit that their concerns over national energy policies are influencing their expectations of government responsibilities and impacting their decisions in the voting booth.
According to the Midwest Energy Survey, “Midwesterners favor policy solutions to climate change that promote energy efficiency through regulation and publicly funded energy efficiency programs and tax incentives.” Additionally the survey—conducted by the Energy Center of Wisconsin and including responses from 3,284 households in nine Midwestern states—reveals that Midwesterners do not expect public energy utilities to lead the way on climate change and energy efficiency; they do expect government action: 39% even list government action as their preferred method for dealing with climate change and US energy challenges. The survey also notes that, “Forty-eight percent of Midwestern adults who believe climate change will result in negative consequences expect government or international bodies to take leadership in addressing climate change.”
A more recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs mirrors the Midwest Energy Survey Findings. Released in June of this year, “Energy Issues: How the Public Understands and Acts,” includes key findings culled from the responses of 1,008 adults contacted for comments on key energy issue in the United States.
The reports include the following conclusions about the public’s interest in energy-related issues, and its expectations of government (and utility) responsibility towards efficient energy use.
* “The US public accepts some responsibility for the country’s energy problems, but most place responsibility with the energy industry and want the government involved in finding a solution.”
* “The public may want the government involved, but it lacks knowledge of major energy savings programs and trust in the information.”
* “People believe they are taking actions to save energy and do not want to be forced into savings through regulations.”
* “Energy issues are cited as an important issue more often than gas prices and the federal budget deficit.”
* “The public understands effective energy-saving behaviors, but perceives difficulty in changing behavior.”
* “The public offers strong opinions about energy independence issues, with significant differences between the parties and generations.”
* “Party identification is a stronger predictor of opinions on energy issues than demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.”
Overall, the study reveals that 62% of respondents feel the government should actively work towards increasing energy efficiency. When broken down along party lines, the picture becomes more partisan, with 79% of self identified democrats declaring that the government should be involved in promoting energy efficiency while only 42% of their Republican counterparts agree.
Nevertheless, 78% of total survey respondents rated energy issues as “extremely or very important to them personally,” and most said energy was more important to them than gas prices or the federal budget deficit. Significantly, “energy and the economy are the only issue areas where the levels of personal importance are equal across parties.”
And for candidates looking to prevail in November, this information is not insignificant. According to a study released last year, “a political candidates electoral victory or defeat is influenced by his or her stance on climate change policy.” And while a poll conducted two years ago by Intelligentutility revealed an electorate split almost evenly on the issue of energy-policy influenced voting (54% yes to 46% no), for Editor-in-Chief Phil Carson, the publication’s results reveal “a frustration with the status quo going into an election.”
And many a savvy politician knows that frustration, when effectively harnessed, can lead to campaign contributions and the necessary ballots come November.
For an exhaustive, non-partisan, summary of where several congressional and presidential candidates stand on energy efficiency and energy policy, check out information provided by On the Issues, and make sure that this November, you cast a well informed vote.