Energy and the environment: Southerners see less of a link

Among our survey’s newest findings is that consumers living in the South are less convinced that their energy use affects the environment than people living in other parts of the country. Based on polling done for three successive quarters, from this past October through April, we found that 64% of the respondents from the South believe that energy affects the environment a lot or a fair amount. That level of belief is notably lower than the 77% in the Midwest, 79% in the West and 82% in the Northeast whose gave similar responses to the question.

0414-Southerners-think-differentlyAcross the three quarterly polls we’ve performed so far, the average result is that about three-quarters of U.S. consumers feel that energy affects the environment at least a fair amount.

Although not statistically significant, we see evidence of a greater degree of belief in the Northeast regarding energy’s impact on the environment compared to the West and Midwest. This distinction could become significant if the pattern of survey responses holds steady in future polls. But through all the survey samples taken to date, the percentage of respondents from the South has trailed that from other regions in terms of how much they believe energy affects the environment.

On the other hand, responses from the South differ little from those of other regions for questions about the affordability and reliability of energy.

One exception is in response to the question regarding how much consumers worry about energy reliability. The overall level of concern about reliability did not vary much across regions. But when we asked about the form of energy they have in mind when it comes to reliability, a larger share of consumers in the South said they were thinking mainly about electricity. This pattern of response matches the makeup of energy use around the country, since households in the South rely more on electricity than those in other regions. According to the federal Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), fewer than half of households in the South use natural gas, compared to an average of roughly three-fourths of households in other regions of the country.

The environmental impact of energy use is emerging as a top concern of American consumers across the board. Averaged over the three survey samples we’ve analyzed to date, 59% of respondents said that they worry a great deal or fair amount about the potential environmental damage of energy use. The issue of energy affordability found only 54% of respondents showing the same level of concern. We did find another instance of regional variability, this time a somewhat greater concern about the affordability of energy among consumers in the Northeast.

Results from the January 2014 poll show that, when asked about the prospect of higher energy prices in the future, consumers in the Northeast are notably more worried than others. Across the other three regions, an average of 20% of consumers said that they were concerned that the energy they need would become unaffordable in five years. But in the Northeast, about 30% of told us that they worried about whether they could comfortably afford to meet their household energy needs five years from now.

Otherwise, consumer attitudes about energy tend to vary more according to income and home ownership status, rather than geography.