2017 was not as good year for building trust in government, business or media, and sets up a period of increased suspicion and doubt. Americans across the political spectrum believe that U.S. federal agencies are the most credible source for energy information—more so than the news media, and significantly more trustworthy than the White House or Congress, according to a new national survey and corresponding report from integrated comms consultancy Makovsky.
The report, Trust, Credibility and America’s Energy Future, offers an instructive look into what U.S. consumers think about energy issues in the end of a tumultuous year that saw the Trump Administration take over national energy policy, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, the repeal of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and ongoing energy issues surrounding hydraulic fracking and the Keystone pipeline.
On the credibility issue, respondents were given a variety of choices, and U.S. government agencies and TV news channels and/or their websites were seen as the most credible information sources (22 percent and 20 percent, respectively) while the White House came in at 13 percent and Congress at 8 percent.
Millennials gave the highest credibility scores to federal agencies and TV news channels (33 percent and 24 percent, respectively). In fact, Millennials appear to be more trusting of information sources in general, giving notably higher credibility scores compared to other generations surveyed.
Despite social media ranking among the top information sources, it was considered the least credible of the sources listed (7 percent). High use combined with low credibility may be driven by the passive nature of social media—as opposed to consumers actively seeking it out.
When asked if the United States is on the “right path towards energy independence,” 65 percent said it was, compared to 43 percent who disagreed. When broken down by political affiliation, 80 percent of Republicans agreed, compared to 43 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Independents. A majority of respondents (61 percent) also agreed that domestic energy sources should be prioritized over foreign energy solutions.
Opinions are almost evenly split among Americans on whether market forces or the government should determine the best energy source for America. Slightly more than half (55 percent) say market forces should be responsible, whereas slightly less than half (45%) believe government should make the decision. Republicans (58 percent), ages 45-54 (62 percent), ages 55-64 (66 percent), incomes of $75k-$100k (62 percent) and $100k+ (61 percent) are most likely to support market forces, whereas Democrats (53 percent), age 18-34 (54 percent), incomes less than $35k (53 percent) lean toward government.
“These new results illustrate that Americans want reliable sources of information about energy issues, and the uncertainty of the past year has led them to put the most faith in federal agency policy makers and the news media,” said Andy Beck, executive vice president of Energy, Manufacturing and Sustainability at Makovsky, in a news release.
Americans also view energy company communications with skepticism and distrust. When asked to identify the most informative energy company communications method, the top response (36 percent) was “none of the above” followed by websites (29 percent), Facebook (15 percent) and advertisements (7 percent).
In a continuation of last year’s survey findings, Americans also continue to considerably overestimate renewable energy’s role in the U.S.’s overall energy use; base their energy decisions on societal impacts; have the most trust in the solar industry; and get a majority of their energy information from television news.
The survey of over 1,000 adults from across the U.S., representing varied political viewpoints, a wide range of age groups and diverse income levels, shows that:
Americans continue to overestimate the contribution of renewable energy in powering the U.S. and underestimate the role of coal, oil and natural gas—now and in the future
In 2017, solar and wind together made up just 3 percent of U.S. energy consumption, while survey respondents put the figure at 21 percent. Furthermore, respondents predict that wind and solar will make up 32 percent of energy consumption in five years; however, industry experts predict that renewable sources will produce less than 5 percent of U.S. energy consumption. Conversely, respondents perceived fossil fuels to be a much lower percentage of the energy mix than they are today and projected them to be even less in five years.
Americans actively seek and pay attention to news related to the energy industry
This is the case for a wide range of topics. More than half of those surveyed (60 percent) report getting information or hearing about energy issues a few times a month.
27 percent of Americans consider the solar industry most trustworthy
Utilities rank second (24 percent) and the natural gas industry is a close third (23 percent.) The coal industry ranks last at 2 percent.