Study: How rising gas prices have affected the American psyche

A recent Pew study reveals Americans' energy priorities have shifted with the rise in gas prices. Fossil fuels, offshore drilling and even fracking find new support among the masses.

With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill conveniently in the past, current issues like rising gas prices have squeezed to the front and center of the American consciousness -- and pushed alternative energy sources to the side.

A new study conducted earlier this month by the Pew Research Center for the People & Press, found the majority of Americans still believe the development of alternative energy sources is more important than increasing oil, coal and natural gas production. But it's a slim majority. And it has dropped dramatically in just a year.

The Pew study found that 52 percent of the 1,503 adults surveyed said developing alternative energy sources is a more important priority for addressing the nation's energy supply. Thirty-nine percent see expanding the exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas as a greater priority. Last year, Americans viewed the development of alternative energy sources like wind, solar and hydrogen technology by a much wider margin of 63 percent to 29 percent.

Support for allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters also has recovered to pre-spill levels. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed favored allowing increased offshore drilling, up from 57 percent a year ago and 44 percent in June 2010 during the Gulf oil spill.

The vast majority of Americans still support a broad range of energy policies (see graphic below), including requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVs as well as more federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology.

Still, views on energy have shifted, especially among among Republicans -- a group once evenly divided over how to address the energy supply.

In the most recent survey, just a third of Republicans view development of alternatives as more important, while 59 percent say the more important priority is to expand exploration and production of oil and other conventional energy sources.

Republicans and Democrats continue to be divided on a range of energy policies. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans favor allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, while only half of Democrats agree. A majority of independents (64 percent) support increased drilling off the U.S. coast. Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to favor giving tax cuts to energy companies for and gas exploration and promoting the increased use of nuclear power.

Awareness and support for hydraulic fracturing, a technique used along with horizontal drilling to unlock gas trapped in shale, also has grown. Among those who have heard about fracking, there is more support than opposition. About half favor fracking, while 35 percent are opposed to the technique.

A few more fracking survey results:

  • Women are evenly split (40 percent in favor; 41 percent oppose)
  • College graduates are about even (45 percent favor; 43 percent oppose)
  • Men who have heard about fracking, favor the practice by about two-to-one.

Photo: Flcikr user Nathan E Photography, CC 2.0

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com