Voters Favor Obama on Energy, says UT Poll



  • Independents favor Obama's platform narrowly, but a third of all voters are undecided or not sure.
  • More consumers say energy issues are headed in the right direction: 24 percent, compared to 14 percent a year ago.

Attention, presidential candidates! After weeks of debating about energy, it might be time to do some listening. In September, The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll questioned American consumers about their personal energy platforms. Turns out, those platforms aren’t quite the same as the ones they’ve been hearing from lecterns on national TV.

The third ‘wave’ of the university’s twice-yearly survey, which interviewed 2,092 people, sends a message to both major parties: Despite high gasoline prices and a weak economy, more Americans are feeling positive about their energy futures. A majority are seeing green, and more and more of them plan to vote with their wallets, as well as their ballots.

“We can tell by the responses that people do focus on energy issues, regardless of their political affiliation,” says poll director Sheril Kirshenbaum.

Optimists are still a minority, but a growing number of consumers say energy issues are headed in the right direction: 24 percent this September, compared to 14 percent a year ago. Pessimists have dropped from 42 percent to 36 percent.

In similar fashion, 47 percent expect their choices for clean and affordable energy to improve over the next five years, while only 19 percent expect choices to get worse.

Consumers also feel a bit sunnier towards the energy policies of President Barack Obama. His satisfaction rating has improved, to 31 percent, though his dissatisfaction rating is still higher, at 44 percent. Low as they might sound, his ratings beat most other energy players - such as oil and gas companies, with only 15 percent approval, and Congress, at a rock-bottom 8 percent.

Respondents favor Obama’s energy platform over Mitt Romney’s, 37 percent to 28 percent. Among much-coveted Independents, Obama has a narrower edge, 27 to 23 percent. But in an ominous sign for both candidates, a third of all voters are undecided or not sure.

Those numbers might reflect that Obama has a longer track record on energy issues, says David Spence, associate professor of business, government and society at McCombs. But they also suggest that voters prefer Obama’s centrist mix of competing energy sources.

“Obama seems a little to the right of many in his party on issues like offshore oil production and fracking,” says Spence. “A plurality seem more comfortable with the balance struck by the administration, compared with what they see from Governor Romney.”

The Fix is in a Mix

Americans opt for a rich menu of energy choices when they’re asked which specific issues would sway their votes. They name a variety of sources, with the cleanest ones on top. Despite bad publicity over loan guarantees for solar manufacturer Solyndra, 58 percent support financial incentives for renewable companies, and 57 percent want utilities to set quotas for green energy. Natural gas gets thumbs up from 58 percent.

Respondents are less excited about oil, but they still want it in the mix. The XL Keystone pipeline draws support from 45 percent, while 44 percent would expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Consumers have deeper reservations about two nonrenewable energy sources. A 40 percent plurality wants to burn less coal. On nuclear power, they’re undecided, with 39 percent supporting, 18 percent against and 44 percent in the middle. When asked whether the government should guarantee loans for nuclear plants, 29 percent say no, and only 25 percent say yes.

“That kind of mix has been true in all three waves of the poll,” notes Spence. “There’s substantial support for anything to boost domestic production. Yet they want it to be as clean and environmentally friendly as possible.”

Green Tech and Greenbacks

Environmental concerns run through a wide array of answers. More than half of consumers call themselves environmentalists, and say there does not need to be a trade-off between economy and environment. But even if there were, 39 percent are willing to pay higher energy prices for environmental protection.

That’s partly because they’re feeling slightly better about the economy, says Wayne Hoyer, executive director of the poll and marketing chair at McCombs. “When times are bad, people are in survival mode. When they have more confidence in the future, they’re more interested in helping the environment.”

Another factor seems to be concern about global climate change. Fully 73 percent think it’s occurring, up from 65 percent just six months ago.

“Over the three waves, I’ve seen upticks across the board in the number of people who believe that climate change is real and that human activity is driving it,” says Spence. “It’s nice to see that the scientific consensus is trickling down to popular opinion.”

On a personal level, consumers seem increasingly eager to adopt green energy technologies, compared to a year ago. Over the next five years, 45 percent expect to use “smart meters” to manage their home electric use, and 28 percent expect to install solar panels. Hybrid vehicles are eyed by 36 percent, while smaller numbers of people are looking at all-electric vehicles, or alternative fuels like biodiesels or natural gas.

“Technologies are changing fast, and people are attuned to that,” says Kirshenbaum. “People are seeing more commercials about hybrid cars and natural gas. This may be contributing to higher anticipated adoption rates for new energy technologies.”

Misconceptions and Disconnects

Perhaps also because consumers are simply paying more attention, some 33 percent consider themselves knowledgeable about energy issues, a sharp increase from 24 percent a year earlier. There’s a gender divide: Among those who said they were knowledgeable about energy, men are more likely than women to think they’re up on the issues, 45 percent to 20.

Some, though, may overestimate their energy savvy. A majority say that Saudi Arabia and Iraq are America’s top two suppliers of foreign oil. In reality, Canada is number one, while Iraq places much further down the list.

Consumers display a different sort of confusion about the price of gasoline. It’s their top energy concern, and 63 percent would be more likely to vote for a candidate who promises to lower gas prices. But only 32 percent think the president has any power to manage the price at the pump, and a mere 9 percent think he has the greatest power.

“Clearly, there’s a disconnect,” says Kirshenbaum. “Lower gas prices are something the public wants, but the candidates can do little to influence prices. It makes you wonder what really drives voting behavior, and whether it reflects reality or what people want reality to be.”


Related articles

Faculty in this Article

David Spence

Professor, Business, Government & Society

Professor Spence's research and teaching focus on business-government relations with emphasis on energy and environmental regulation. He received his...

David Spence teaches in the Texas Executive Education program, featuring open enrollment, custom and certificate classes for executives and organization teams.

Wayne Hoyer

Marketing Department Chair and Professor McCombs School of Business

Wayne D. Hoyer holds the James L. Bayless/William S. Farrish Fund Chair for Free Enterprise. Dr. Hoyer joined the faculty of The University of...

About The Author

Steve Brooks

In a quarter-century as a journalist, Steve Brooks has won two Neal awards for excellence in trade reporting and a Press Club of New Orleans award...


#1 If the results of the poll

If the results of the poll are true........Those polled are either misinformed or don;t understand the topic.

#2 What? Undecided and not sure

What? Undecided and not sure are different slices? Way to go UT!

#3 So the results of this poll

So the results of this poll scare me. I take them for what they are worth and don't doubt them. I just don't think the average American voter has enough knowledge to understand how potentially destructive President Obama's energy policy is. My immediate thoughts as I read through the findings of the poll: - Energy Issues are actually headed in the right direction.....currently. I agree. And that is due to nothing more than the Shale Revolution that has exploded in the past 4-6 years here in the US. The credit goes to the technology, innovation, and risk taken by the private sector (not the government or this administration as they would like you to believe) to unlock incredible resources and reserves availble to us that we thought previously were not economical. We are now on track for 100% complete energy independence in the next decades just based on what the 'Private Sector' is doing alone with shale developement in the past few years. It's possibly the single biggest game changer in economics of energy, economy, and policy since the discovery and development of cheap oil itself from Spindletop in 1901. The Shale Revolution has made available Natural Gas for consumption here as a plentiful, clean, and cheap resource and Crude Oil for consumption and export to other developing countries for a long, long time. We have completely turned the concept of 'Peak Oil' upside down. What was once a declining recourse for us for decades is now plentiful here on our own soil to rely upon for the next 100 - 200 years. We don't have to send our money overseas to foreign lands anymore. They can all just trade here domestically. And those are the facts as we know them today. - So the poll says that 63% of respondents would favor a President who promises lower prices at the pump. Then why in in the world is there such a disconnect with those people still favoring Obama? Price of Gas was $1.89 when took office and is now $3.80. And it appears he has no problem with that price going higher. Proof is in the pudding....his own Sec of Energy Steven Chu that Obama appointed himself said that we as Americans need to be paying 'European prices at the pump' to promote energy efficiency. There is no way any Leader would appoint somone to execute their job in less they believed in the same goal as well. Would you as the President appoint an Energy Sec who wants to increase artificially increase the price at the pump if you believe in the exact opposite? Of course not. Obama appointed him because he believes in the same goal. European gas prices....Are you kidding me? Is anyone else interested in paying between $5 - $10/gallon right now? Sounds like economic suicide to me. Just look at what's going on in California. They are currently paying $5 at the pump because of recent refinery shortage. But this isn't all just due to a couple of refineries being down recently. It's due to the fact that the refinereies are required by state law to use a special blend that is more 'environmentally friendly' and with higher taxes of course. These environmental and high tax regulations that Californians voted into law is exactly why Californians on average always pay more at the pump. It's their own decision and that's fine. Well guess who want to mirror California energy policy such as this for Federal law for all Americans?.....EPA Admin Lisa Jackon. And guess who apoints her........yep....Obama. These points alone of Chu and Jackson help prove my point that many of the people in this poll are not aware of the facts of energy policy. 63% in the poll want lower gas prices yet a large % of those are willing to vote for the guy who is trying to raise the prices at the pump through his own decisisoins he has control over. Did Obama answer the question about gas prices the other night in the debate? No he did not. Go back and listen to his answer. He completely skirted the issue of gas prices to that guy's question because he can't honestly look the American people in the eye and tell them he is for lower gas prices. And yes....despite that many in the poll think the President can influence prices at the pump....he can. Crude oil is a global commodity. But if you are able to have your own refineries purchase more long term supply of crude oil at lower prices to WTI or Brent and with more consistentcy the refineries can in turn take those cost savings to be more competitive at the downmarket retail pump. We don't have complete control over the global commodity of crude oil price, but if all of our refineries were able to purchase and use our own N American supply at our own trade rates and at our control of delivery to key strategically locations throughout the country (and weren't handcuffed like ridiculous environmental regulations and high taxes in California) then absolutely you can have an end effect of the price at the pump here in the US. You aren't as beholden to economics of global trade....just N American trade and reasonable regulation and policy at the state level. - We have to let the free market decide which sources of energy are the most efficient and economical for us to use for sustainable use and developement for the next century. Whichever sources rise to the top in the free market of consumer choice needs to the sources we use. But that's not what the current President is pushing. Make no mistake about it,....his past 4 years have been about trying to pick the winners and losers of energy policy. Solyndra, A123, Tesla, you name it....he gambled our taxpayer $ on it despite the risks. If Obama was investing his own money would he make these investments? Nope. Of course not. Too risky. But if he can invest someone else's money (aka.....the american taxpayer) knowing the high risks are worth it in return for the good public perception of 'investing green' than it's okay to him and his energy team. This is a huge mistake that all of us Americans as tax payers and consumers are on the line for. Invest our taxpayer money in what energy opportunities makes sense on a balanced economical, environmental, and sustainalbe basis. Invest our money like it's your own because it is. But they don't. This mindset of federal govt spending in Washington for scoring public perception points has been a cancer for a while now. - Romney was correct in nailing the President in the debate the other night about his administration's decision to cut permits for drilling on federal lands. This is a terrible idea for us a country to not continue urging development of these resources that we the taxpayers own and should be utilizing for fidicuary reasons. There is a wealth of income for the federal government to be made off of leasing these lands but we are not utilizing it. We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars in federal tax royalty that goes straight to uncle sam and to the top line of our federal balance sheet to help our woeful deficit and debt issues that we the american tax payer are all on the hook for. And this increase in federal royalty income does not even take into consideration the local economic impacts at the state, county, and city level. That numbers goes well into the trillions of dollars of economic impact. - Acres of Federal land Leased for drilling development in 1984 = 9.1 million acres per year leased and 127 million acres cummulative. Acres of Federal land leased for drilling development in 2010 = 1.4 million acres per year leased and 38.9 million acres cummulative. We are going the wrong way with leasing and permitting on federal lands. No way to spin it. We are leaving money on the table that could be helping out our federal deficit. Those are our resources. We the American taxpayer own them. Use them. - I think if the Average american voter knew the facts of energy policy and the difference between Obama and Romney this election would not be a toss up as it right now. It would be a landslide to the candidate who gives the American consumer, taxpayer, and voter a better path to economic prosperity. One candidate's policy is based on upon long standing ideaologies with little weight given to current free market economics and fiscal accountability. And the other candidate's policy is based upon rational thought like an investor with heavy weight given to current free market economics and fiscal accountability. It's an easy choice if energy policy was the only factor taken into consideration. My 2 cents...... Thank you UT for the poll. It's insightful.

#4 Thanks for an informative and

Thanks for an informative and insightful comment. I'd like to point out just one statistic, since I often see it used in a misleading way: The price of gasoline at various points in time. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average price of regular was indeed $1.89 a gallon the week of Obama's first inauguration. This week, it's $3.30. But that price was less a reflection of oil supply and energy policy than of the overall crash of the economy, which dampened demand and pushed down oil prices. Just a few months before, in July, regular hit a historic high of $4.11 a gallon, which has still not been topped. If we factor in that there's seasonal fluctuation in gas prices, the price one year prior to Obama's inauguaration was $3.06. So the $1.89 figure is an outlier, compared to the years before it. Gas prices rose rapidly in 2007-8, breaking the $3 barrier in the summer of 2007 and the $4 barrier in the summer of 2008. So, claiming that Obama or any other president is responsible for the rise or fall of gasoline prices depends a lot on where you put your measuring stick. Shift it by a few months, and you can prove opposite conclusions. Which might be why the poll finds consumers so conflicted on the question. They want the president to bring down gasoline prices, but they don't think he has much power to do so. Again, I appreciate your thoughts on the article.

#5 Popular political platforms

Popular political platforms have so far failed to comprehensively address or even openly acknowledge the unprecedented combined challenges of global warming, the peak limits of production, flow rates, and net energy regarding our primary energy resource, crude oil, and the exponentially growing demand for virtually all resources. Economics and natural resources are not just intimately entwined, one derives from the other. Without establishing a strong and sustainable balance between limited resources and human behaviors, one cannot ensure a robust, long term economic future. An effective energy policy (IMHO) should be part of a broader economic policy: - A fast track program is needed for dramatically reducing carbon emissions by way of non-carbon based energy resource and technology development. - A fast track program should be established to dramatically increase energy and resource use efficiency, including investments in basic infrastructure, e.g. local and regional autonomy, reduction in required travel distances, use of established energy efficient building technologies, etc. - We should also explore ways to establish and maintaining social status and well being through means other than an ever increasing per capita consumption of natural resources.

#6 This article gives new

This article gives new meaning to "Keep Austin Weird"

#7 "Optimists are still a

"Optimists are still a minority, but a growing number of consumers say energy issues are headed in the right direction: 24 percent this September, compared to 14 percent a year ago. Pessimists have dropped from 42 percent to 36 percent." So, let me just clarify... you are saying that anyone who disagrees with this administration's current direction on energy issues is a pessimist?

#8 As RG noted, the UT Energy

As RG noted, the UT Energy Poll is a nationwide survey of consumers, not a survey of McCombs students. The "agenda" of the poll is to better understand the thinking of American consumers over energy issues, and how their thinking evolves over time. The questions in the poll have been vetted by experts on all sides of energy issues, both inside and outside UT.

#9 What is the difference

What is the difference between undecided and not sure?

#10 For practical purposes, I

For practical purposes, I don't think there's any difference, and so I lump them together in the article.

#11 To the first two posters: As

To the first two posters: As a UT alumnus, I'm embarassed by your comments and what they say about the quality of education at the McCombs Business School. I have no problem with your opinions on the President's energy policies. Reasonable minds will disagree. You both, however, purport to blast the article and the poll because the results are not what you would have liked. That's all fine and dandy, but neither of you took the time to actually read the article or the polling report. Poster #1 claims the results are wrong based on his experience with McCombs students. Really? Your informal discussions with your like-minded peers prove that this poll is inaccurate? Poster #2 believes the poll was of McCombs students. Contrary to that assertion, the poll is NOT A POLL OF UT STUDENTS, much less McCombs students. The "poll questioned American consumers about their personal energy platforms." The polling report states that it was an "online nationwide survey." You can both disagree with the survey's results based on your personal opinion all you want, but don't challenged the integrity of the results without presenting any evidence to prove that the polling criteria was flawed in some way. The only benefit to come from my reading your comments is that I now know to not take any business advice (or advice, generally) from anyone named Alex Bryan or anyone who calls him/herself "grossa."

#12 One line that stuck out to me

One line that stuck out to me about this article was: "Despite high gasoline prices and a weak economy, more Americans are feeling positive about their energy futures. A majority are seeing green, and more and more of them plan to vote with their wallets, as well as their ballots." First off, high gas prices and a weak economy show that Obama has done the opposite of what he said he would do and that we are moving in exactly the WRONG direction. As someone who is on the Texas Energy Forum and has studied oil & gas and energy finance I can assure you that even IF (a big if) these statistics are correct (which I highly doubt because as a McCombs student I can attest most students would disagree) Obama's energy policies are not in favor of the consumer or the American economy. His negative investments are proved time and time again as just today another one of his "green" companies declared bankruptcy. The bigger issue is that his foreign policy is terrible for our energy future. Since he is killing domestic drilling, fracking, and the Keystone pipeline we as Americans must look outward for energy. This currently means we have no option but the middle east, and Obama's foreign policy drives the leaders of OPEC to charge us more, and the uprising in those countries slows drilling. Additionally since the Oil market is global, the value of the dollar factors in. As stated above, the economy is "weak" which means the dollar is weak. This means each dollar is worth less globally and will buy less oil. So a weak dollar and unrest in the middle east means more expensive oil. Obama's energy policies are awful for the future of America and these statistics are not representative of the student body in McCombs.

#13 As a McCombs student, it

As a McCombs student, it baffles me that McCombs would allow an article like this to grace the front page of the school's website. Regardless of the article's content, to post an article that suggests UT students favor Obama's policies is unprofessional and inaccurate. This poll did not at all truly represent the entire population of UT students, and therefore should not be presented on the homepage of a respectable business school. More specifically, I can assure you that this claim towards Obama is definitely not representative of business students who pay for an education at McCombs. The image displayed clearly shows bias and favoritism to the Obama party. I find this incredibly disrespectful to those students in McCombs who do not support the Obama party, especially since many business students probably do not. If an educational institution is going to pride themselves on being one of the top business schools in the country, then they should at least be sure that the public statements they make are actually representative of the people they call students.

#14 As a student criticizing this

As a student criticizing this article, you should take a moment to read it first. The UT Energy Poll is not a survey of students at the university. It's a national poll reflecting US Census data of the entire nation.

#15 I wonder what percentage of

I wonder what percentage of the more than half who consider themselves environmentalists have written a letter to an elected official, spoken at public hearings, attended a rally for policy change, etc? I am also curious as to what fraction of those 33% of respondents who consider themselves "energy savvy" know how much water they use each month, how many kilowatt hours of electricity they consume, how many cubic yards or btus of natural gas they use, their monthly appetite for gasoline, and so on, and how they compare to the average Austin citizen? Like in any other endeavor, you can't measure progress if you don't know where you are.

Leave a comment

We want to hear from you! To keep discussions on-topic and constructive, comments are moderated for relevance and for abusive or profane language.
Login or register to post comments