In 2021, developments related to consumers’ prices at the pump broke through more than most other energy- or climate-related stories, according to an analysis of regular Morning Consult and Politico surveys asking voters how much they had seen, read or heard about current events.
However, there was one notable exception: The Texas power crisis caused by rare February storms was among the most penetrating stories of the year, both among energy-specific events and news across the board. Of the events included in the weekly surveys, 19 pertained explicitly to energy, climate or the environment.
Texas Power Crisis Dominated the Energy Narrative for News Consumers in 2021
What the numbers say, overall
- When below-freezing temperatures last February sent millions of people in Texas into extended blackouts, 63 percent of voters nationwide heard “a lot” about it. Meanwhile, the accompanying political fallout was also highly salient; when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was spotted on a flight to Cancun mid-crisis, nearly half of voters (48 percent) heard a lot about it.
- The weeks-long water crisis in Jackson, Miss., was connected to the same series of storms; however, it went comparably unnoticed (19 percent).
- Otherwise, the energy-related events that garnered significant attention from voters concerned fuel prices. The Colonial Pipeline hack and subsequent shutdown in May, which led to gasoline shortages on the East Coast, came in third on the awareness list (46 percent), followed by fuel price increases more generally in March and “oil and gas prices reaching their highest point since 2014” in mid-October (both 36 percent).
For Most Energy and Climate Events in 2021, a Notable Partisan Gap in Awareness
What the numbers say, by party
- Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say they had heard “a lot” about nearly every event included in the surveys, aside from the three that concerned jolts to fuel prices. The gulf between the parties’ awareness of fuel price increases in March was particularly dramatic, at 20 percentage points.
- Major climate-related developments that President Joe Biden tried to spotlight received little notice from voters, even from Democrats. These include the Biden administration’s pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (29 percent of Democrats), the international COP26 summit (22 percent) and the U.S. climate summit featuring dozens of world leaders (21 percent ).
Even as the share of the public that expresses significant concern about climate change hovers at about 40 percent and scientific consensus continues to emphasize how increasingly dire the crisis is, the stories that resonate with voters are still those that impact their pocketbooks rather than their worries for the planet. While there is the rare crisis that breaks through, such as the power disaster in Texas, even major wildfires and oil spills are less likely than fuel prices to receive major attention.
This lack of awareness will no doubt present problems as the climate crisis continues to worsen -- as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s seminal report said it certainly will, a finding just 18 percent of voters heard a lot about -- and both collective action and consensus on the issue become even more crucial.
Morning Consult and Politico polls were conducted throughout 2021, surveying roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with 2-point margins of error.