While the chart is compelling, it falls short on multiple levels.
1. The options it presents are a false dichotomy. We have several energy sources at our disposal that are environmentally sustainable such as wind, solar and geothermal. It would be interesting to see how this poll would have played out had they included a third option: methods for increasing U.S. energy production in environmentally sustainable ways should be given a priority over less environmentally friendly methods. And indeed, when Gallup asked last year which types of energy should get an increase in federal funding, clean energy sources beat oil, gas and coal by a 2-1 margin:
2. Given the Republican party’s rightward lurch on energy policy in recent months and years, this data is relatively meaningless without the partisan breakdown. Using data provided to EnviroKnow by Gallup (crosstabs here), I created a chart showing the partisan breakdown on the energy production vs. environmental protection question:
As you can see, while 60 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents prioritize environmental protection over energy production, just 25 percent of Republicans do so. And while 68 percent of Republicans prioritize energy production over environmental protection, just 33 percent of Democrats feel the same way. When you look at polling that seems to show a decrease in support for a liberal policy idea, you should keep this dynamic in mind. More often than not, a look at the crosstabs of the poll shows that the decrease can be largely attributed to a shift in Republican attitudes, rather than a broader shift across the board. The larger story here seems to be that as conservative opposition to President Obama solidifies and hardens, more and more Republicans who once held somewhat sensible positions on environmental issues have shifted to the right.
This sharp partisan divide in priorities should come as no surprise to those who follow modern American politics. The Republican rank and file, as well as the party’s leadership, have adopted an ‘against anything President Obama is for’ approach. If President Obama says protecting the environment is a worthwhile endeavor, Republicans automatically assume that it is a terrible idea. This dynamic was on full display last month when, during earth hour, the Competitive Enterprise Institute actually encouraged people to waste energy. Likewise, when President Obama announced his support for increased offshore oil and gas drilling — a position Republicans have traditionally supported — Republican leaders said it still managed to pretend to be outraged.
What Republicans apparently fail to recognize is that the economy is a subset of ecology. Without a viable natural environment to sustain us the economy as we know it would not exist. An increasing GDP is meaningless without clean drinking water and full employment is of little comfort to those who don’t have access to food that is safe to eat. Those are facts that can’t be changed by the interests of corporate polluters or the petty politics of the modern Republican party, despite the best efforts of both.