Consumer survey shows support for cutting oil

By Holly Jessen | April 15, 2010
Posted May 20, 2010

A Consumer Federation of America (CFA) survey, conducted a month before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, shows that Americans support reducing oil consumption and more stringent fuel economy standards. The results of the CFA commissioned survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corp., were released this weekon the same day Congress started hearings on the oil spill. "Our survey data strongly suggests that the American public is getting very close to the point, if they're not already there, where they are prepared to support radical measures to break our nation's dependence on oil and oil imports," said Jack Gillis, CFA director of public affairs.

Specifically, of the 1,010 adults surveyed, 87 percent felt that it's "important" that the U.S. reduce its consumption of oil and 54 percent that it was "very important." In addition, nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that the government should increase the fuel economy standard to 50 mpg by 2025. This would increase the mpg average by 15 mpg from the 35 mpg standard currently set for 2016, the report said.

During the survey, people were also asked what amount of oil is imported to the U.S. and what oil reserves the country has. While the majority knew the answer to the first question most overestimated the amount of proven oil reserves that are located in or offshore the U.S. In reality, three fifths of the oil used in the U.S. is imported and the country has less than 3 percent oil reserves. "Notwithstanding the tendency to overestimate the U.S. share of world oil reserves, the consistent concerns expressed by the public about oil consumption and their support for reduction in consumption and increases in fuel economy indicate a fundamental recognition of the problem of oil addiction,'" the study said.

Next, half the respondents were given the correct information on oil reserves and imports to the U.S. Armed with that information, the percentage that thought it was "very important" that the U.S. decrease foreign dependence on oil increased from 54 percent to 68 percent. "The fact that providing respondents with accurate information about the U.S. oil situation increases support for policies to reduce consumption could interact with the focus on the U.S. problem situation resulting from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to reinforce support for further reduction in consumption," the study said.

The public has been surveyed on this topic 11 times in the past six years through CFA commissioned surveys. What has been revealed, the report said, is that while oil prices have gone up and down wildly, consumer attitudes have stayed fairly consistent. The surveys ask, "Thinking about the next five years, how concerned, personally are you about the following three issues (A) gasoline prices; (B) U.S. dependency on Mid-Eastern oil; (C) global warming." Gasoline prices and dependency on Mid-East Oil was a concern for more survey respondents than global warming. For this survey, 75 percent were concerned about gas prices, with 51 percent expressing great concern. Concern about Mid-Eastern oil imports was fairly close, with 69 percent expressing concern and 48 percent expressing great concern.

Ethanol was only mentioned once in the report, in reference to the "dramatic increase in share of product supplied." This, along with an increase in domestic production of oil, were cited as the two reasons that oil imports declined much more than consumption of oil during the recent recession. "The increase in ethanol equals two thirds of the difference between the decrease in import and the decrease in consumption," the report said. "Domestic (oil) production also increased, accounting for the other one-third of the difference between the change in imports and consumption."

The report also put a lot of emphasis on reducing fuel economy as a way to reduce oil imports. However, flex-fuel vehicles weren't mentioned at all.