WASHINGTON -- A majority of the public still supports government funding for alternative energy research, although the degree of enthusiasm has decreased substantially since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
The Pew report comes as congressional Republicans investigate solar company Solyndra, which received a multimillion-dollar loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, declared bankruptcy and became a focal point for the ire of those who oppose government subsidies for new forms of energy.
According to the report, 82 percent of Americans favored government funding for alternative energy in 2006, while only 14 percent opposed it. Five years later, the balance has shifted to 68 percent favor and 26 percent oppose.
The shift can be entirely attributed to a decline in support from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. In 2006, 83 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners favored alternative energy funding. In 2011, that number is down 30 points to 53 percent, albeit still a majority.
Conversely, support from Democrats and and Democratic leaners has slightly increased from 81 to 83 percent.
The Pew results also demonstrate the widening partisan divide on what the role of government should be. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners said that government investment in new energy is necessary, while 59 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners said that businesses will develop technology without government investment.
But overall, a majority (52 percent) see government investment as necessary in developing new energy technology.
Additionally, public support for more federal funding of alternative energy (68 percent) is higher than support for drilling for oil and gas in U.S. waters (58 percent). The majority support for both options, however, suggests a willingness among Americans to pursue multiple solutions to the nation's energy problems rather than seek the one magic bullet.
Yet here as well, the Pew numbers reveal a partisan divide as 77 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners favor drilling in U.S. waters versus only 46 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
Increased use of nuclear power, which currently provides around 20 percent of the nation's energy, was opposed by 53 percent of Americans, despite the Obama administration's ongoing support of the nuclear industry.
Subsidies for ethanol production was the sole energy policy in the survey that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans did not favor, with only 45 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of Republicans supporting the subsidies.
The Pew survey suggests there are few easy political solutions for America's energy problems. However, politicians should note the ongoing and relatively high level of bipartisan support for funding of alternative energy.
The Pew report is based on telephone interviews conducted from Nov. 3 to 6, including 601 respondents via a landline telephone and 404 on a cellphone.
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