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Surveys Show Broad Support for Biofuels in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 10/08/2009

More and more people in the state are supporting the use of biofuels as a way to protect the environment and save money on energy costs, but they are also split over whether or not the government should have any say over the matter. According to a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, nearly two-thirds of Wisconsinites surveyed support the use and production of biofuels--with the majority of those same people believing the free market should provide the incentive to invest in technology to make fuels from plants or other organic materials.

The survey was put together by Dietram Scheufele and Bret Shaw, both professors of life sciences communication at UW-Madison. They conducted a telephone survey of about 600 people through a recent Badger Poll between April and June. Scheufele and Shaw say disagreements over whether biofuel development should be spurred by policies or the market reflect clear ideological rifts among Wisconsinites. About 60 percent of Democrats support the use of government subsidies for biofuels research, but less than 40 percent of Republicans agree. Similarly, about three-fourths of Republicans think "the free market should regulate biofuels," a view that is shared by just 44 percent of Democrats.

But a majority of both Democrats and Republicans (60 percent and 51 percent, respectively) believe that without governmental pressure, the oil industry will never invest in biofuel development.

"These ideological rifts are consistent with what we have seen for other emerging technologies, where pundits and commentators on both sides of the aisle have tried to reframe the issue for their electoral base," says Scheufele. "What is interesting is the agreement among Republicans and Democrats on what it will take to get industry buy-in."

The researchers did find quite a few points of agreement. Republicans and Democrats share the view that biofuels will protect the environment and help the U.S. economy. In particular, both groups agree that biofuels are less damaging to the environment than petroleum-based fuels and that biofuels burn cleaner than regular gasoline. Most Republicans and Democrats are also confident that biofuels production will create more jobs and help strengthen the U.S. economy.

The survey also tested knowledge about biofuels. Given nine true-or-false questions, on average, respondents were able to answer five correctly. More than three-fourths knew that biofuels can be produced from materials other than food crops and that more than 80 percent of the gasoline sold in Wisconsin already contains ethanol. Only a third correctly answered questions about whether Wisconsin biofuels producers used about half of the state's corn yield last year (they did), or if fossil fuels account for more than 95 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. each year (they don't).

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