For the second time, a Gallup poll found that about half of Americans believe protection of the environment is more important than development of the nation's energy supplies, a view also shared by most Democrats.

According to Gallup, 49% of respondents to a poll conducted March 5-8 agreed with the statement that "protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies -- such as oil, gas and coal -- which the United States produces." Meanwhile, 39% backed the statement that development of the aforementioned resources "should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent."

It was the second time that respondents have sided with the environment over developing energy supplies. In 2013, the margin was 51-40% in favor of the former.

Gallup analyst Andrew Dugan opined that lower gas prices and an improved national economy were behind Americans' recent support for the environment. He said Americans generally favored the environment from 2001, when Gallup first started asking the question, until March 2008, just before the onset of the U.S. financial crisis.

"From 2009 until 2013, as the economy recovered from the Great Recession, the plurality of Americans often favored energy production," Dugan said last week. "However, during that time period, in May 2010, as a damaged drilling rig leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, Americans strongly favored environmental protection," (see Daily GPIApril 23, 2010).

Dugan added that several energy-related issues -- including the debate over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and new rules governing emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants "continue to flare partisan tempers with no mutually accepted resolution in sight."

The latest Gallup poll shows a yawning partisan divide. Respondents who identified themselves as Democrats supported the environment by a 72-18% margin. Independents also backed the environment, 48-39%. But Republicans, who now control both chambers of Congress, backed the development of U.S. energy supplies, 62-27%.

Last month, another Gallup poll (see Shale DailyMarch 23) found Americans were evenly split, 40-40%, over the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Dugan indicated Americans' support for the environment was a bit of a paradox, since fracking is credited with boosting U.S. oil production to the highest level in 45 years.

"Generally, though, Gallup has seen a modest increase in economic confidence as gas prices have fallen, suggesting Americans are feeling real benefits from the drop in the cost of a tank of gas," Dugan said. "But should gas prices increase substantially, Americans' feelings on this issue could change."

Gallup surveyed 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The poll has a margin of error of plus/minus 4% at the 95% confidence level.