WASHINGTON -- As summer beckons, it seems Americans are thinking more about the stifling cost of energy than about making tracks to the beach.
Cutting energy bills and use is a bigger deal to them than taking a vacation or scoring the latest smartphone or tablet, according to a survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that asked people to choose priorities. Not even 1 in 5 ranked a summer trip or the latest gadget as a priority, while majorities said reducing electricity use and making homes energy-efficient are important.
But in typical American fashion, by far the highest priority was having a reliable set of wheels.
The poll, paid for by a grant to the AP-NORC Center from the Joyce Foundation, shows that energy, especially in a weak economy, is prominently on people's minds -- and may explain why it's being talked about in the presidential campaign. Nearly 8 in 10 called energy deeply important to them, trumping concerns about the federal deficit and the environment. The only issues that polled as higher concerns were the economy, education and health care.
Almost three-quarters said gasoline prices were important to them personally, although prices have abated since the poll was taken.
There are limits, though, on what people are willing to sacrifice for a more energy-efficient life. Nearly 9 in 10 people said they had taken some action in the past year to save energy, with those making less money and on a tighter budget saying it was more important to make their homes more efficient or save money on energy. The idea of changing transportation habits rated as among the most difficult energy-saving actions for people to take.