A 56% Majority of Americans Oppose the Continuation of Government Subsidies for Corn Ethanol

Many Worry that Ethanol Subsidies Lead to Higher Food Prices

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New York, NY — A clear majority of Americans surveyed by Ipsos say that the U.S. government should not continue to provide subsidies for ethanol production (56% vs. 44% who say it should continue). Similar proportions agree that the production of ethanol should be driven by demand in the marketplace rather than by government subsidies (57% agree) and that the industry should focus more on producing ethanol from non-food crops such as switchgrass (51%).

Opposition to subsidizing ethanol production may be explained by widespread concern that increased demand for corn to produce ethanol will cause farmers to grow less of other food crops (51% agree) and/or that government subsidies for ethanol contribute to higher food prices (50%).

Even though more would choose energy independence over lower food prices (55% vs. 45%), four in five Americans would rather see government subsidies used for crops than used for ethanol production (82% vs. 18%). Fewer agree than disagree that ethanol is the most promising means to create U.S. energy independence (25% agree, 30% disagree, 45% neither agree nor disagree).

In fact, nearly a third of adults (31%) believe that producing corn-based ethanol is counterproductive, actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions by changing current land use patterns. However, 36% say that ethanol is more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels, as it contributes less to global warming.

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted May 19-25, 2009. For this survey, a national sample of 1,266 adults aged 18 and older from Ipsos' U.S. online panel were interviewed online. Weighting then was employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/-2.75 percentage points 19 times out of 20 of what the results would have been had the entire adult population of the United States been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

Support for government subsidies for corn ethanol production appears to decline with age and is more widespread among women than among men.

  • Over half of adults under age 35 (56%) believe that government subsidies for ethanol should continue, while just 44% of those aged 35 to 54 and 32% of those aged 55 and older concur. Similarly, while 62% of adults aged 35 and older believe that the marketplace demand rather than government subsidies should drive ethanol production, only 45% of younger adults agree. However, adults under 35 are also much less likely than are older adults to feel that government subsidies increase food prices (37% agree vs. 55%).
  • Men tend to be critical of ethanol subsidies than women, as they are more likely to worry that increased demand for corn-based ethanol will decrease other food crops (58% vs. 45%) and that government subsidies will contribute to higher food prices (58% vs. 42%). Similarly, men are more likely than are women to say that there should be a greater focus on producing ethanol from non-food crops (60% vs. 43%).

The survey also shows that pocketbooks trump environmental concerns when it comes to both food and gasoline prices:

  • Two thirds say that lower gas prices are more important to them personally than reducing the emissions from gasoline (66% vs. 34%).
  • Similarly, nearly two thirds say that lower food prices are more important to them personally than reducing the emissions from gasoline (64% vs. 36%).

However, when asked to choose between lower food prices and lower gasoline prices, slightly more opt for lower food prices nationally (54% vs. 46% for lower gasoline prices).

For more information on this news release, please contact:
Clifford Young
Senior Vice President
Ipsos Public Affairs
(312) 777-3911

About Ipsos
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Member companies assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media. They measure public opinion around the globe.

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A 56% Majority of Americans Oppose the Continuation of Government Subsidies for Corn Ethanol


Clifford Young
President, US
Ipsos Public Affairs