Sheril Kirshenbaum

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

An increasing number of Americans believe the current gasoline prices, which range from $1.93 to $3.29 per gallon nationally, are relatively reasonable, according to the UT Energy Poll released Wednesday. 

In September 2014, 90 percent of Americans believed gasoline prices were too high, but now that number has dropped to 66 percent.

“There’s been such a deep decline in the price,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT Energy Poll. “ I’m paying as much now to fill up my own car as I did in the late 1990s. I think a lot of people are noticing a big difference in how much it costs to travel.”

The sharp decline in oil prices this past year can be attributed to a lack of demand from consumers across the world, according to Carey King, assistant director of the UT Energy Institute.

“Oil production in North America has increased relatively quickly,” King said. “It has increased faster than the demand for gasoline. There’s more oil than people are prepared to consume.”

But people shouldn’t get used to these low prices, King said. 

“[These prices] will be around for six months to a year, at most,” King said.

However, high gas prices have their own set of advantages. Kirshenbaum said that when the price increases, the public usually takes a greater interest in energy conservation.

“When gas prices were very high, we saw a lot more concerns over what people were paying — maybe some more interest in the adoption of renewable technologies or driving hybrid cars,” Kirshenbaum said.

When gas prices decline, number of large vehicles purchased goes up, said Michelle Foss, chief energy economist for the Jackson School of Geosciences.

“When gasoline prices are lower, people tend to use more,” Foss said. “In our country, people have started buying SUVs and trucks again. If the cars people buy are more fuel efficient, which they are, then less gasoline will get used than before.”

The findings in the poll don’t have much significance, according to Foss, because any small price fluctuation in the oil industry has a considerable effect on the U.S.

“We have not had big changes,” Foss said. “Oil prices stabilized a bit. In the U.S., any change in oil price, high or low, gets translated directly to the pump. This is especially true in Texas.”

Americans below the age of 35 tend to support candidates running on an environmentally friendly platform, according to a new study from the UT Energy Poll. 

According to the poll, which was conducted in early September, 65 percent or more of young Americans would vote for a candidate who supports reducing gas emissions and coal use, increasing science and research funding and expanding financial incentives for renewable energy. In contrast, 50 percent or less of Americans above the age of 65 would vote for a candidate supporting these issues.

The disparity in responses could reflect distinct priorities between older and younger generations, according to poll director Sheril Kirshenbaum. While older Americans tend to support federal spending in social security and the military, younger generations prefer federal money to go toward the environment and education, Kirshenbaum said.

“Younger Americans are more invested in the future,” Kirshenbaum said.

Despite more mainstream conversations about sustainability, Kirshenbaum said series of UT Energy Polls showed responses favoring more environmental policies tended to stay at the same levels. 

In regards to environmentally friendly legislation, Kirshenbaum said young Americans could shape the future of the nation if voter turnout among youth increases. According to the online poll, 87 percent of older Americans said they were likely to vote in contrast to 68 percent of young Americans who said they would vote.

“Do the millennials represent where the nation and the globe is headed? Are we going to cut carbon emissions and be more environmentally minded?” Kirshenbaum said. “Or is that not the case because older Americans are more likely to vote, and are they going to continue to set policy?” 

Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council member and candidate in the District 9 race, lists the environment, alongside affordability and transportation, as the city’s top issues heading into Tuesday’s election. 

“It’s inspiring to see so many students committed to ensuring that the future of their energy relies heavily on solar, wind and renewable sources,” Tovo said. “Also, there are certainly concerns about how the City is planning a sustainable future in regard to our use of water.”

Tovo said the poll reflected a long history of University students’ interest in Austin’s ecosystem, particularly in Barton Springs. 

“Austin is a beautiful place, and we’re really fortunate to have some really significant environmental features — Barton Springs being at the center of those,” Tovo said. “People understand that it came through strong advocacy, and we can’t take for granted that those wonderful features are going to be here for future generations.”