PRINCETON, NJ -- As gas prices continue to rise in the United States, 42% of Americans describe the energy situation as "very serious," slightly above the historical average of 38%, but lower than at several other points since Gallup first asked the question in 1977.
The high point in energy concern, 58%, came in May 2001, another time of rising gas prices, which were contemporaneous with rolling blackouts in California due to energy shortages. Usually, at least 40% of Americans have said the energy situation was very serious during times of higher gas prices, such as in 1979, 2008, and this year. However, the current percentage of 42% is slightly lower than what Gallup measured last year (45%), in 2008 (46%), and in 1979 (47%).
The low point in perceptions of the energy situation as very serious, 22%, came in 2002.
Americans are divided over the future U.S. energy situation, with 50% saying the United States is likely to face a critical energy shortage during the next five years and 46% saying it is not likely to. Americans' opinions on this matter have fluctuated over time, including a higher 61% predicting an energy shortage last year and 62% in 2008. The historical average, which also includes a 45% reading from 1978, is 53%.
Assessments of the U.S. energy situation vary little by subgroup, including by political party affiliation. However, older Americans are somewhat more likely to express concern than are younger Americans.
Rising gas prices are beginning to catch Americans' attention, as noted by the increase this month in the percentage naming it as the most important problem facing the country. But gas prices still rate behind other issues as the most important problem, and though a substantial minority of Americans describe the U.S. energy situation as very serious, it is only slightly above the historical average.
Americans' views about the seriousness of the energy situation over the next several months are likely going to be determined by the trajectory of gas prices -- which typically rise in the spring and summer months before falling in the late summer and fall -- as well as whether gas prices surpass the record high set in 2008.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 8-11, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.