Study Finds Gas Prices Worry Americans More Than Terrorism
PHILADELPHIA --- With fuel averaging close to $3 a gallon nationwide, more American consumers declare themselves highly concerned about high gas prices (83 percent) than about terrorism (62 percent) or the economy as a whole (69 percent).
These are findings from the inaugural National Analysts Worldwide "Foods, Fats and Fuels" study completed in March that surveyed a nationally representative sample of 502 consumers via the Web.
As a result of soaring gasoline prices, consumers are eyeing alternative energy sources such as biofuels in a favorable light. Among those familiar with biofuels, most (72 percent) view them as a good way to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and to generate renewable energy supplies (70 pecent).
Still, the National Analysts Worldwide study shows there's limited consumer understanding about biofuels. More than one in three (36 percent) consumers said they have never heard of biofuels. And, among those who have, there is uncertainty about the net benefits. Only half (52 percent) are convinced that biofuels produce less greenhouse gas than fossil fuels and two-thirds (65 percent) are not sure whether biofuels require more energy to make than they contain.
Ultimately, consumer demand for biofuels comes down to cost. Although 59 percent of consumers claim to be "very concerned" about the environment, four in 10 of those familiar with biofuels say their decision to buy is contingent on a price-at-the-pump that is lower than gasoline; only 12 percent are willing to pay any sort of premium.
"At the moment, consumer demand for biofuels is propelled almost entirely by pocketbook considerations," noted Debra Kossman, senior vice president at National Analysts Worldwide. "With gas prices at an all-time high, large numbers of consumers are prepared to entertain use of biofuels and other sources of alternative energy but there is little conviction behind those opinions. At the moment, public perception is being shaped in an information vacuum, which means it can be reshaped rather quickly."
Hoping for a more affordable fuel alternative, consumers expressed willingness to support companies that manufacture biofuels. Over half (52 percent) of those who have heard of biofuels agree that companies that make them should receive government tax incentives. Only 2 percent would oppose construction of new ethanol construction facilities and nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) would support construction in their own community.
"All things considered, we seem to be at a real inflection point in the public debate on biofuels," said Susan Schwartz McDonald, president and CEO of National Analysts Worldwide. "For the moment, at least, consumers stand behind the production of biofuels, but their vote of support is propelled solely by the hope of lower fuel prices. Should ethanol production result in higher prices --- either at the pump or in the supermarket due to increased demand for corn or other staples --- some of those favorable attitudes toward the environmental impact of biofuels could quickly dissipate."
While most consumers are open to the prospect of alternative fuels, 5 percent of drivers said they would not be willing to purchase biofuel for their own vehicle, even if it cost less per year than gasoline. These respondents voice concern about potential harm to their vehicle's engine or performance, the untested nature of biofuels, and a fear that there will not be enough locations from which to purchase biofuels.