A recent Gallup opinion poll shows a few interesting patterns in public opinion about energy policy options in the United States. While opinion polls are difficult to interpret and often do not gauge the depth of public sentiment – people tend to over-report their enthusiasm for environmental protection when they do not have to pay for it – this one is interesting for a few reasons. A grain of salt, and here goes:

– Support for energy conservation instead of more energy production is growing. 57% of the respondents now prefer energy conservation. This is a clear increase from the low of 48% in 2011, though we are still 7 percentage points below the high of 64% in 2007.

– Among all Americans, 59% prefer investment in renewable energy to fossil fuels. The really interesting observation, however, pertains to differences between age groups. Among Americans between 18 and 34 years, 80% prefer renewables. Among 55+ years, the corresponding number is only 49%.

Part of this could be youthful enthusiasm, but the large difference between age groups is also an encouraging sign. First, younger Americans live in a media environment that seems to be more favorable to renewables than before (to be honest, this is based on a gut feeling). Second, renewable energy is becoming more competitive and employing more and more people. Third, 80% is such a high number that support among young conservatives must also be relatively high.

Public opinion is not enough to turn the tide, but it could be one part of the solution. These are encouraging signs.