WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A slim majority of Americans (51%) now favor the use of nuclear energy for electricity in the U.S., while 43% oppose it. This level of support is similar to what Gallup found when it last measured these attitudes two years ago, but it is down from the peak of 62% five years ago. Current support is on the low end of what Gallup has found in the past 20 years, with the 46% reading in 2001 the only time that it sank lower.
The high point in support for the use of nuclear power, in 2010, was recorded shortly after President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would provide loan guarantees for the construction of two nuclear reactors, the first to be built in the U.S. in three decades.
Support has generally dropped since then. However, between 2011 and 2012, support was stable, with 57% favoring nuclear energy. This is notable given that Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster took place shortly after polling in 2011.
The latest result comes from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 5-8.
Majority Wants More Emphasis on Solar, Wind Energy and Natural Gas
In the same poll, 35% of Americans say the U.S. should put more emphasis on nuclear power, while 33% favor less emphasis and 28% think the emphasis should remain the same as it is now. A majority of Americans favor putting more emphasis on solar energy, wind and natural gas.
Solar power is the most popular energy source on this question, with 79% of Americans saying the country should put more emphasis on it. Wind power is close behind at 70%. Americans are the least likely to want more emphasis on coal.
Support for Natural Gas Down Since 2013
Since 2013, support for "more emphasis" on natural gas production has dropped 10 percentage points and there has been a five-point drop in the percentage who want more emphasis on oil, possibly reflecting that the U.S. is producing more of these two commodities than in 2013. There has been no meaningful change in support for expanding solar power or wind as part of a national energy strategy; the same is true for nuclear and coal energy.
A solid majority of Republicans support more emphasis on oil, natural gas, wind and solar power, similar to their views in 2013. Meanwhile, a majority of Democrats support more emphasis on wind and solar power. The percentage of independents wanting greater emphasis on various energy sources is generally in between that of Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans and Democrats show the greatest differences in their views of oil and nuclear power. Sixty percent of Republicans support putting more emphasis on oil, more than double the 28% of Democrats who support it. For nuclear energy, 47% of Republicans support greater emphasis, compared with 24% of Democrats.
While fewer Americans think the nation's energy situation is serious than Gallup found as recently as 2011, the country remains divided, often along party lines, on which energy sources the U.S. should emphasize.
Americans overall continue to want more emphasis on so-called green energy: wind and solar. However, the percentage favoring nuclear energy, which provides about 20% of the nation's electricity, has seen several years of decline and is among the lowest Gallup has found. While a majority continues to want greater emphasis on natural gas, this is down significantly from 2013. This could be indicative of the divisive nature of fracking. Americans are divided in their support for fracking, one of the main ways the U.S. produces natural gas.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 5-8, 2015, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,025 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.
View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.
Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.