MADISON, NJ - Four of five New Jerseyans (79%) say the cost and availability of energy is a major problem for the country. That compares to just half (49%) who said so in FDU’s 2001 poll. Ten years ago, gas prices were spiking to their highest levels since 1991 and 41% said the cost of energy was a minor problem. Now, as gas prices spike to their highest level since 2008, just 17% say it’s a minor problem.
“The one political topic everyone is reminded of several times a day is the price of gas,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “There is no escaping it.”
But according to the statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, little else has changed in 10 years in terms of who gets blamed and what solutions might be effective.
U.S. oil companies get the most blame: 49% of residents assign them “a great deal” of the blame for national energy problems. In 2001, 44% of New Jerseyans said the same thing. Congress is second, with 40% of New Jerseyans giving the lawmakers “a great deal” of blame, while 10 years ago 34% blamed Congress a great deal.
They are much less likely to blame the incumbent president: just one in five (19%) say President Obama deserves a great deal of blame and, similarly, in 2001 just one in four (25%) said President Bush deserved a great deal of blame. Of course, a majority of Democrats (54%) are now willing to give former President Bush a great deal of blame for today’s problems, while only 15% of Republican voters assign Bush a great deal of blame.
The only significant change in the blame game is that the public is less willing to cite environmental regulations: just 23% say regulations get a great deal of blame, compared to 32% who said so a decade ago. “I think environmentalists should consider that a sign of progress,” said Woolley. “Fewer people see environmental rules as the problem.”
At the same time, public support for solutions to our energy problems has changed little in 10 years, and there are significant disagreements associated with party affiliation. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think that requiring car makers to increase fuel efficiency would be a very effective solution (62% compared to 50%). But Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that constructing more nuclear power plants would be very effective (33% compared to 16%). Still, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say conservation would be very effective (57% compared to 34%). And while Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say that offshore drilling would be very effective (53%-21%), Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to think that encouraging solar and wind power would be very effective (55%-28%). Finally, 70% of Republicans say that relaxing environmental rules would be somewhat or very effective, but only 40% of Democrats agree.
“Many experts who think about energy problems see those problems as technical ones,” said Woolley. “But solutions to our energy problems are very political, beginning with people’s perceptions of them,” he said. “And that means nothing will be resolved anytime soon.”
In his major energy speech in Iowa in May of 2001, President Bush said “We face a shortage of energy. It is real. It is not the imagination of anybody in my administration. It's a real problem." In Obama’s major energy speech in March of this year he said “So here’s the bottom line -- there are no quick fixes. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy.”
So…conserve energy or increase supply? In 2001 Garden Staters split 51%-34% in favor of conservation. In 2011, they maintain that split, 56%-35%.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 637 adult residents statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from May 16, 2011, through May 22, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.