Mixed Emotions on Energy Issues Complicate Environmentalists' Efforts

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows Americans' energy and environment opinions don't consistently line up.

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2011, file photo demonstrators for and against the Keystone XL pipeline gather near the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., as public hearings take place about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Texas through the sandhills of Nebraska. Supporters of the pipeline, which include labor unions and business groups, spoke of jobs and development and energy security. AFL-CIO leaders hope to smooth tensions at their executive council's annual winter meeting that starts Monday, March 12, 2012, in Orlando, Fla., with union leaders trying to repair bitter divisions over Obama's rejection of the pipelines. (National Journal)

Mixed emotions in the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll may help pinpoint the challenge confronting environmentalists looking to build a coalition behind one of their top priorities.

This week's survey tested attitudes on two hot-button issues: construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and President Obama's proposal to regulate carbon emissions from power plants linked to global climate change. Environmentalists fiercely oppose the first and just as staunchly support the second; for most of the fossil-fuel industry, the priorities are reversed.

But in the survey, only about half of adults who took a position on both issues consistently lined up with one side or the other.

The largest group, at 35 percent, took a consistently pro-development position: They supported the pipeline and said Congress should vote to block the proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation. Another 14 percent took positions that consistently aligned them with environmentalists: They opposed the pipeline and said Congress should not vote to block the regulations.

The rest splintered. About one-in-six expressed no position on one (or both) of the two issues. Another 8 percent opposed both the carbon regulations and construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Perhaps the most politically intriguing group was the 26 percent who split in the opposite direction. These respondents supported the regulations, which suggests an affinity for environmental arguments. But they also backed the pipeline, which environmentalists consider a severe climate risk because it will transport carbon-intensive tar sands oil.

These conflicted adults represent a large part of the reason the pipeline attracts much broader overall support (67 percent, virtually unchanged from a previous United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll in January 2012) than the regulations (which divided respondents almost exactly in half, with 46 percent saying Congress should block them, and 42 percent saying it should not).

So who are these pro-pipeline, pro-climate action Americans? An analysis of the survey results show they are distributed remarkably evenly across the population, with only a few exceptions. For instance, the results show little variation by region (ranging only from a low of 24 percent in the South to a high of 28 percent in the Midwest, a difference well within the poll's 3.6 percentage point margin of error).

But although the differences are modest, the survey did find that this conflicted group leans slightly toward constituencies central to the modern Democratic coalition, particularly minorities and college-educated white women (each at 29 percent). Indeed, 30 percent of self-identified Democrats supported both the carbon regulations and construction of the pipeline, higher than the number for independents (28 percent) or Republicans (22 percent).

All of which suggests that as environmentalists try to build a coalition against the Keystone pipeline, their work may need to begin right at home.

The latest poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,002 adults from July 11-14, and has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.