Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama, McCain Voters Favor Nuclear Energy

Tree And by an impressively wide margin, too. A new poll from Bisconti Research for NEI interviewed 1000 voters to determine the support for nuclear energy depending on which candidate they were leaning towards - we've always liked the idea, much used by pollsters, of the "leaning" voter. You get an image of a grove of folks, swaying as the political winds move them.

Before going through the results, we would have anticipated that John McCain voters would prefer nuclear energy much more than Barack Obama voters; Obama's support has been positive if a bit on the tepid side and we expected his candidacy would attract more environmental no-nuke diehards.

But see for yourselves.

“Overall, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States?”

Favor (which combines strongly and somewhat favors):

Obama: 72%

McCain: 86%

That's about what we expect from the McCain crowd, but higher than expected (well, than we expected) from the Obama folk. It may be that engaged voters have tussled with this issue enough to give nuclear a solid boost.

“From what you have heard, do you think that (John McCain/Barack Obama) includes nuclear energy in his energy plan for the future?”

McCain leaners/McCain - 72% McCain leaners/Obama - 24%

Obama leaners/Obama - 54% Obama leaners/McCain - 45%

McCain has been considerably more voluble about his support for nuclear energy both on the trail and at the debates. Obama brings it up, but in terse sentences, not full paragraphs. That seems reflected in these numbers.

There's a few questions probing support for various energy policies. We won't go into the specific questions (involving recycling used nuclear fuel, loan guarantees, and so on) but will note that the range of voters supporting such policies stayed exceptionally high, between 74 and 87 percent.

You can decide what to take away from these numbers. We think it provides evidence that voters are aware of many of the issues around nuclear energy, generally support it despite candidate preference, and understand it well enough as an energy source. You could even conclude that the next president will have pretty wide latitude with where he might go with nuclear energy.

We've mentioned before that we don't blame anyone for doubting the legitimacy of a poll sponsored by an advocacy organization; however, one cannot really measure effectiveness by cooking the books. What's a lot more likely to happen is that an organization simply won't publicize poor results.

And in truth, NEI doesn't publicize good results that broadly, either - most polls are intended for the membership and for internal use, not for the public per se. We received permission from NEI central to share these numbers with you.

Well, all right, it isn't at all fair to compare our grove of leaning voters to the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. After all, they cheerfully answered the questions and did not throw apples afterward. We just wanted to find some anthropomorphic trees and these was pretty memorable if overly cranky. (And Scarecrow did provoke the trees, if you'll remember.)


Anonymous said...

Don't take this the wrong way, but I for one don't put much weight in Bisconti's numbers (or ANY single poll's numbers). The Bisconti polls seem to consistently paint a rosier picture than, say, Zogby's or the New York Times. My confidence would be higher if the spread between the different pollsters was smaller. However, assuming the various polls are conducted somewhat consistently each time, I would tend to think that the relative change from one survey to the next conveys useful trend information.

If it isn't too much to ask, a chart comparing various national polls over time would be appreciated.

Mark Flanagan said...

I'm kinda with you on this one and we have featured other polls on the site. Bisconti really isn't an outlier, but your idea of a comparison is a good one and we'll scoop up some polls and see what's what.

Gunter said...

Contrary to Bisconti's "findings," if you have been watching the last two CNN debates and the live sensitivity monitoring of a sample of undecided voters in Ohio, the lines have either flatlined or dipped during the candidates comments every time "nuclear" is mentioned.

Bisconti does not reflect an "unbiased" opinion pollest, being a former VP for Communications at NEI.

Matthew66 said...

Gunter, the audiences at the debate are hardly representative of the general voting population. It is true that Ms. Bisconti is a former VP of Communications at NEI, and her interest in nuclear energy is probably what led her to specialize in market research on nuclear energy issues. That doesn't necessarily mean that her research is flawed or biased. If you have evidence that her research is flawed or biased please provide it, because I for one, do not accept that such bias is self-evident.

In any event, whilst Ms. Bisconti's research shows greater acceptance than research provided by other organizations, what is undeniable is that the zealously anti-nuclear crowd is rapidly losing credibility with the general population. The internet is a wonderful medium for undertaking your own research. People who have access to the internet no longer accept statements made by any political action group at their face value. If the topic is one that they're interested in, they'll go and research that topic on the web. Most people I've met are pretty critical in their sources, and will treat statements made by NEI, NIRS or Greenpeace with a grain of salt until they get verification from respectable academic or non-partisan official sources.

Apparently most people have found that the statements made by the NEI are more independently verifiable than the slogans uttered by NIRS and Greenpeace. Sucks to be you guys I guess.

gunter said...


The question I want to see from any pollster is:

"As both electricity ratepayer and federal taxpayer, are you willing to underwrite the very large credit risks unique to nuclear power development that Wall Street is unwilling to bear as a result of the high capital cost and all-in cost uncertainty associated with new nuclear construction?"

Talk about subprime loans...

Matthew66 said...

Gunter, that is a leading question, one that is designed to elicit a predetermined response. No reputable polling service would ask a leading question. NIRS might, but no reputable polling service would

Mark Flanagan said...

I suspect Gunter's question would lead to goggle eyes and stammering. As the example in the post shows, Bisconti's questions are simple and non-leading.

We really aren't claiming that any one poll can be indicative of anything definitive, but many polls from many sources have shown nuclear energy finding more favor. Bisconti's is the only one we know of that tried to score that favor according to candidate and that makes it fairly interesting.

But Gunter is as right as Matthew: you can take the results any way you want.

If Bisconti's polls diverged dramatically from Zogby or others who have polled on nuclear issues, that might be a problem. But they don't - as I say in the post, NEI doesn't benefit from tainted polls. Credibility is everything in this game.

Anonymous said...

"If Bisconti's polls diverged dramatically from Zogby or others who have polled on nuclear issues, that might be a problem."

Consistently much higher support for new nuclear in Bisconti polls than in those not funded by the nuclear industry. usually about 10% at least.

Anonymous said...

"The U.S. has plans to recycle used nuclear fuel rods to make more electricity and reduce the amount of waste that has to be disposed of."

from latest Bisconti poll. That's not a leading question? It has the "correct" answer built into its wording.

Anonymous said...

I think the nuclear discussions in the debates are a sign of just how much political progress the industry has made.

The more pro-nuclear candidate (McCain) did not try to avoid the subject. Instead, he not only made a point of trumpeting his position, he took his opponent to task for not being as supportive of nuclear. Meanwhile, it is the less supportive candidate who's trying to avoid the subject.

Think about it. Not supporting nuclear is now a political liability that your opponent will seek to attack you on.

Compare this to the 1992 Democratic primary debates when all the other candidates (especially Bill Clinton) piled onto and ridiculed Paul Tsongas for being mildly supportive of nuclear.

Politicians read the polls, and it's clear that they understand that the majority of the public now supports nuclear.

Jim Hopf

Matthew66 said...

Anonymous at 4:08 p.m. Market research polls usually include a statement of fact as a lead in to a question. E.g. Candidate A has publicly stated s/he will oppose X legislation if elected/re-elected to the legislature. Will this make you more or less likely to vote for candidate A."

There is a vast difference between a statement of fact and a a leading question. A leading question will have trigger words that are much more likely to lead the respondent to answer the question in the way the survey designer wants them to.

A statement of fact should be designed so as not to provoke an emotional response.

From a theoretical statistical perspective, it would be better to frame Gunter's question thus:

The Congress has passed legislation to offer financial guarantees of loans to electrical utilities to facilitate the construction of new nuclear power plants. At this time it is uncertain what costs, if any, will arise from this legislation. Do you approve or disapprove of this legislation?

Anonymous said...

"Market research polls usually include a statement of fact as a lead in to a question."

Exactly why the Bisconti question on reprocessing is a leading question. It assumes all arguments vs. reprocessing are incorrect, then asks if the respondent supports it.