PRINCETON, NJ -- When it comes to making their homes more energy efficient, Americans appear to be motivated much more by finances than by environmental concerns. The vast majority of Americans who have taken steps this year to make their homes more energy efficient, 71%, say they did so mostly to save money rather than to improve the environment.
These results are based on a Nov. 20-22 USA Today/Gallup poll. This week, President Obama announced plans to give incentives to homeowners who make their homes more energy efficient as one of several new initiatives to help create jobs in the United States.
The poll was conducted before Obama made this announcement, and found that home improvements to increase energy efficiency are widespread: 68% of Americans say they have taken steps in the past year to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Solid majorities of all demographic subgroups have tried to improve the energy efficiency of their homes in 2009, with little variation across groups. Americans aged 65 and older are slightly less likely than other groups (58%) to say they have taken measures to make their homes more efficient.
Across the board, cost savings is the primary motivating factor for Americans who have made their homes more energy efficient. There are differences by ideology in the relative emphasis given to cost savings versus the environment -- with liberals more likely to give the environment a greater priority and conservatives far less likely to, but a majority of liberals still citing cost savings as their primary reason for taking those actions.
While Gallup has found Americans willing to take environmentally friendly actions, they may be doing so more for practical financial reasons than on behalf of the environment. That is not to deny that the environment could be a motivating factor in why Americans might undertake home improvement projects; it is just not a greater factor than cost savings for the majority of Americans.
This greater emphasis on economics may not necessarily be the case under normal economic circumstances -- this year, for the first time, more Americans said economic growth ought to be a higher priority than protecting the environment.
But the new energy efficiency findings are somewhat consistent with other Gallup polling showing that the environment and energy do not rank very highly when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the country, or in Americans' relatively low rating of these issues as priorities for the government to address, or as factors in their vote in U.S. elections.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 20-22, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the 673 Americans who took steps to make their homes more energy efficient, the maximum margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.