Ssangyong Shows Two Diesel Hybrid Concepts at Seoul Motor Show
EEA Report: Trends in European Transport Are Heading in the Wrong Direction

Energy Learning Curve Survey Finds Americans Support Wide Array of Proposed Energy Policies, But Are Not Yet Ready to Make Tradeoffs

At least 10 major energy proposals that would provide incentives for energy efficiency, reduce gasoline usage and support alternative energy have the support of more than two-thirds of Americans, according to a new survey, “The Energy Learning Curve” released by Public Agenda, an opinion research and citizen engagement organization.

However, the survey also found that the public may not yet be prepared for the tradeoffs and challenges needed to make these proposals a reality, with majorities rejecting measures such as a floor on gasoline prices, congestion charges, or higher fuel taxes.

Just as there’s widespread support on promising ideas, there also seems to be broad agreement on what’s off the table. Anything that increases the cost of driving is soundly rejected by the public. People are willing to change their behavior in many ways, but they don’t want to be forced into it.

—The Energy Learning Curve

The public’s interest in energy alternatives is broad and not necessarily dependent on its worries about gas prices, according to the survey. Three quarters of the public (73%) disagrees with the statement that “if we get gas prices to drop and stay low, we don’t need to be worried about finding alternative sources of energy,” and fully 53% “strongly disagree.” While the survey found consensus on many aspects of the energy challenge, there are also significant barriers in building public support for change.

Perhaps no challenge facing the United States today is more dependent on public support and consumer action than energy.

—Daniel Yankelovich, Public Agenda’s chairman and social scientist

Yankelovich developed the Learning Curve concept of public understanding, which sees citizens typically moving through distinct stages: first, initial consciousness of the problem, to a second stage of “working through” the tradeoffs in different options, and then finally, to resolution about solutions.

The challenges involved in solving our energy problems and getting public support for those solutions are difficult but far from insurmountable. Given what’s at stake, it’s essential that progress up this learning curve accelerate as quickly as possible.

—Daniel Yankelovich

Despite the many differences in public attitudes and gaps in knowledge, there is widespread public support on a number of policies that the nation could pursue, particularly around alternative energy, conservation, and incentives to become more efficient. Ten of the proposals have more than two-thirds support:

  • 86% agree that investing in alternative energy will create many new jobs (45% believe this strongly);

  • 84% support more investment in fuel-efficient railways (47% strongly);

  • 81% support tax rebates to individuals who reduce energy use (44% strongly);

  • 79%, support tax rebates to businesses (41% strongly) who reduce energy use;

  • 78% want higher gas-mileage requirements for cars (50% strongly);

  • 74% say developers should be required to build more energy-efficient homes (32% strongly;

  • 73% support tax credits to purchasers of hybrid automobiles (38% strongly);

  • 72% want to reward businesses that reduce carbon emissions and penalize those that don’t (37% strongly);

  • 71% agree that more tax money should be spent on public transportation (33% strongly); and

  • 68% want the nation to take steps to gain energy independence even if it raises energy costs (24% strongly)

By contrast, majorities oppose measures that would force change by increasing the cost of driving:

  • 72% reject setting a floor on gasoline prices (58% strongly opposed);

  • 61% oppose congestion pricing (41% strongly); and

  • 57% reject a gsa tax even when it would be used to achieve “energy independence” (37% strongly).

Public Agenda’s study found four clusters of people with distinctive values, beliefs and knowledge. While they come at this problem from very different perspectives, they sometimes end up with similar views on solutions. The groups include:

  • The largest group, the Anxious, account for 40% of Americans. Worried about energy costs, oil scarcity and global warming, they favor conservation, regulation and development of alternative energy sources. They tend to be younger, lower income and have less knowledge about energy issues.

  • The second largest cluster, the Greens, represent 24% of the public, strongly favors conservation and developing renewable energy over drilling for oil. They are willing to pay more to develop renewable energy. Politically moderate, they tend to be higher income and more knowledgeable about energy issues.

  • The Disengaged group comprises 19% of the public and can be described as politically moderate, lower income and disproportionately older and female, with limited knowledge and concern about energy issues.

  • Finally, 17% are Climate Change Doubters, who do not consider global warming a problem. They are politically conservative and support more nuclear power and expanded domestic oil drilling.

Energy prices, oil dependence and climate change. Right now, the majority of the public sees the price of energy and the problem of oil dependence as deeply troubling problems. Climate change is a lesser concern.

  • Overwhelming majorities worry about increases in the price of gas and fuel (89% overall, with 57% saying they worry “a lot”);

  • Concern about dependence on foreign oil is almost as high at 83% (with 47% worrying “a lot”)

  • Concern about climate change is much less intense. While 71% say they’re at least “somewhat” worried about global warming, only 32% say they worry “a lot.” That’s 25 percentage points less than the number of people who worry a lot about prices.

Barriers to public engagement. The study found most Americans tend to focus on one or two aspects of the “energy problem,” such as prices or climate change, not recognizing their connection to other issues.

Despite consensus on certain solutions, misconceptions and lack of knowledge hinder informed judgment and create a disconnect between the public and policy makers. For example, half of all Americans could not identify a renewable energy source, nearly 4 in 10 cannot name a fossil fuel, two-thirds overestimate US dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and more than half think that, by reducing smog, the United States has gone “a long way” in addressing global warming.

Better information, by itself, isn’t enough. It would be a terrible mistake to assume that if and when the knowledge gap is filled, the public will then be ready to support sound policies. People can absorb factual information much faster than they can overcome wishful thinking and denial or accept far-reaching changes in habits and lifestyles.

This is a unique challenge to policy makers: the combination of a fast-moving, complex problem and a comparatively slow-moving public trying to come to grips with it. While the challenges are significant, and the hurdles extensive, there’s nothing in our research to suggest that they’re insurmountable. The American public has grappled with complex challenges. Given committed leadership and the right conditions, the public can come to firm, sound conclusions. Energy is the next big challenge, and given the right circumstances, can be the next success.

—Daniel Yankelovich

This report—the first in a series of The Energy Learning Curve studies to measure the public evolving views and knowledge about energy issues—was based on interviews with a national random sample of 1,001 adults over the age of 18 conducted between 15-30 January 2009. More than 90 survey questions were asked, covering each facet of “the energy triple threat—economic, oil dependence and environmental issues.”The margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus four percentage points.

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization dedicated to nonpartisan public policy research and civic engagement, and was founded in 1975 by former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author.

The study is being released in conjunction with “Planet Forward,” a web-to-television-to-web initiative produced by the Public Affairs Project of The George Washington University, designed to advance the discussion on energy and climate change with both citizens and leaders submitting their ideas. Additional findings from the survey will be released on the Planet Forward television premiere, scheduled for 8 PM on 15 April on PBS (check local listings for exact show times in your area).




"57% reject a (gas) tax even when it would be used to achieve “energy independence” (37% strongly)."

There we have it folks. You could say that if we had a $1 per gallon tax the next 10 years, we could be free of middle eastern oil and half would say "forget it".


Actually the whole idea, of Americans wanting something but not willing to paid for it, goes much deeper. Afterall your national debt has already passed the $11 trillion mark and this recession was triggered by too many people buying houses [and other things] without regard for a realistic payment plan.



I have to say that you are right. I was born in the U.S. and have seen the Reagan revolution turn us from a country of WE into a country of ME. The idea is that each individual takes care of themselves ONLY and everything will be fine. Oops!


Yeah, and I really love how the Dem/Liberals get labeled as 'the tax and spend' party while the neo-cons are the 'spend even more but don't tax' party.

Please note I said "neo-cons" because a true Conservative would be more carefull with the money.


It's always the "other" party that is the irresponsible one.
Americans wanting something but not willing to paid for it, includes tax breaks for the rich and redistribution.

Too many people buying "too big" houses that they cannot afford includes the "wealthy on paper" and those who think it is their responsibility to only pay what they can afford.

The Reagan revolution turned us from a country of what I want for my own utopia, to what I earn.

The Obama revolution is that the country does whatever makes them feel green and sensitive with no regard to cost.

The old Dem/Liberals are'the tax and spend' party
The conservatives (if there were any) are the don't spend, don't tax, don't regulate.
The neo-cons are the 'spend even more but don't tax' party.
And the neo liberals are the spend more yet and give more away and tax the next generation.


The other day I was watching a documentary about the liberalization of markets and the fall of communism throughout the world over the last 30 years. It was kind of funny how people can be blinded by ideology. Sure, communism doesn't work, and this show was sure going on about how free markets ultimately lead to free societies ..... well, maybe in comparison to communism. It discussed Reagan's and Thatcher's policies of opening up countries to free markets and all the benefits this brought, as if the issue was a done deal. Well, free markets can do many good things, but they too have many problems. To anyone who isn't blinded by ideology the answer is obviously something in the middle. The bottom line is that power corrupts, wherever there is unchecked power. You get this on both the left and the right.


This idea that free market will do everything fine and correct by themselves is not only ridiculous but also dangerous, and we are clearly seeing today the consequences of such a blinded ideology. There is always externalities that will cause sooner or later the free-market to derail, free-market don't take into accont resources depletion, environmental degradation, global warming, suffering of populations etc... but we are a the point where all these byproducts will become an added cost that we can no longer neglect, and the markets are not ready for this.


Getting just a little off topic, if you want an extreme example of the failure of free markets watch the movie "Sharkwater"


I see alot of people still dont get it.

What reagan did was realy just drop the "official" tax rate to closer to the real tax rate so people cheated less and invested more and thus got taxed more often for more of what they were actauly doing.

This also pulled in trillions of bucks worth of foriegn investors who also managed to boost the tax rolls.

But after awhile the dems at state and local levels started to boost taxes and spending and other areas of the world became better investments and ... wooosh. The money moved.

The simple fact is its better to invest in africa then it is america.

As for how that effects this topic...

People know that extra taxes will simply leave them without the money to get any of these new cars. Extra gas prices will simply break even more bits of the economy UNLESS taxes elsewhere drop dramaticaly to compensate.

In short people know that if they have less money they wont buy hybrids. They wont buy anything.


Yes and let's also not forget that the communists were responsible for the death of 100 million according to the "Black Book of Communism" by Stephane Courtois et al.

But then that's the eco freaks ultimate goal. Reduce the world population to save the planet by any means possible.


@Mannstein "Reduce the world population to save the planet by any means possible."

That statement is uncalled for and untrue.

@wintermane "What reagan did was...after awhile the dems at state and local levels started to boost taxes and spending"

Actually one of the things Reagan did was bring in the 'pay as you go' rule. PAYGO required all increases in direct spending or revenue decreases to be offset by other spending decreases or revenue increases. Both GHWB and WJC had to follow this rule so the Dems had to boost taxes just the same as Bush senior did. Shortly after junior became Pres. the rule lapsed and he was free to cut taxes and increase spending.

I have heard America called "the Wal-mart Nation" and it fits. In our[we in Canada have the same problem] search for cheap prices we forget everything has both a price and a cost. Often when the price goes down the cost goes up. For example the cost of cheap goods from China is lost jobs in America.


"People can absorb factual information much faster than they can overcome wishful thinking and denial"

This is especially true for us entitlted Americans.

According to the analysis, all groups but the "greens" are still ignorant or in denial of obvious energy/environmental problems.

Strong leadership is needed to drag these folks, kicking and screaming as they will, toward progress and change. The pain will be minor and short lived for all but those who have profitted heavily from the corrupt status quo of past and current energy policy.

The economy of ideas and inovation has always driven this country to prosperity. We cannot let ignorance and fear prevent us from continuing to achieve in the future.

It seem there is plenty of consensus to build on...

Andrey Levin

Ideology is bad guide to technical problems. And make no mistake, it is technology which will solve our real and imaginary problems.

Short term: build nuclear power stations (and whatever wind, solar, and hydro could offer) and convert residential heating in big cities to district heating, and suburbia heating to heat-exchange ventilation and air-to-air heat pumps. Make released reserves of NG, coal, shale, conventional oil into liquid fuels to drive hybrid cars.

This is only an example.

In a hundred years of such assured energy supply our kids will figure out how to power their world.


"In a hundred years of such assured energy supply our kids will figure out how to power their world. "

Andrey, you are right - except that the children have already done it. Essentially. We have reached a real shift and the problem now is how to best distribute abundant energy equitably.

That requires shifting the massive resources that have been beating the drum for global warming - to a new campaign. A much more difficult, but honest one. Population stabilization. The advent of ubiquitous, sustainable energy must be balanced with stabilization. A real thorny problem. And I suspect the Earth is open to suggestion.

Will S

This survey didn't address revenue neutral energy taxes (where taxes collected are returned to every taxpayer in equal amounts), so the populace doesn't have a net tax.

If explained, I'm willing to bet that the general population would have much greater support for this.


We are very slow learners.

Smoking low cost nicotine boosted tobacco made millions sick in the last 100+ years and up to 400 000 Americans smokers die prematurely every year. The direct and indirect health + reduced productivity cost is $1T+ per year. The new 60 cents/pack tax will help to convince 6% of the remaining 25% smokers to quit. Another $1.80/pack would be required to tackle most of the remaining 19%. What an ideal way (win-win) to finance the health care modernization programme.

Electrification of ground transport vehicles and higher performance e-HVAC could also become a win-win proposition if cleaner e-energy production is increased by 20% + per year for the next 10+ years. One of the best way to finance such programme would be with a progressive liquid fuel tax. A new 2 cents to 5 cents a gallon per month applied over 50 to 100 months should do the trick.


Some of these ideas would have been given a fair hearing had they not been co-opted by fanatics bent on re-engineering human behavior. An overplayed hand caused the backlash that would largely be absent if not for fanaticism.

At any rate a fuel tax is at least better than the boondoggle of Cap N' Trade.


I find myself agreeing with the fanatic; a fuel tax is better than the boondoggle of Cap N' Trade. I would go even farther: A consumption tax[which is what a fuel tax is] is better than a tax on wealth.


A hybrid cant compete with a paid off car.

Alot of people simply are waiting for the future cars and getting thier paid off cars repaired until then. There is NOTHING you can do to change that. Even if they do want a new car they cant get a loan anyway... and after you pay off your cars you realy dont like getting a new loan.


They used to call it Planned Obsolescence. The idea is you would change the styling to fins this year and people would trade in the old model.

That works if you are the only country standing after a World War, but in a global economy people need a better reason to part with their hard earned after tax dollars.


It's strange that many Americans don't mind to have the crap out of their hard work taxed, but couldn't live with a tax on gas instead.

In any case, I'm happy to live in a country where the opposite is the case, because I'd hate to be punished harder for my own hard work and rewarded more for consuming foreign gas.


The reason is simple realy. We dont trust em to swap the taxes from income to gas in a way that doesnt suck worse then an all mime marching band playing yoko onos greatest hits...



Could you translate?


In simple terms do you trust any of the current former or future politicos to actualy manage a swap from income tax to fuel taxes without completely bleeping it up?

Most people dont.

The comments to this entry are closed.