Tuesday, June 6

Polls, politicians, and emerging technology

[This article has been published in Restoring America to consider how politicians might lead the public towards an embrace of nuclear energy, which would allow the U.S. to become more energy independent].

Nuclear energy may prove to be a case study for the notion that public opinion is often less a driver of public policy than policymaker leadership. A look at public opinion polls shows no great desire for the U.S. to generate more of its electricity from nuclear fission, though favorability has increased. As reporter Harry Stevens
recently noted
in The Washington Post:

In the United States, nuclear energy’s advocates for decades have been awaiting a renaissance that seems to never come. Public opinion remains mixed, but younger adults are less favorable to nuclear power plants than older people, according to polling from the Pew Research Center.

And a similar, but more recent poll
from Gallup

Screen Shot 2022-05-13 at 1.16.29 PM.png

Yet I think it’s fair to say that the odds of nuclear becoming a greater share of US power production might be on the rise. For example: Los Angeles Times
recently reported
that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is open to the possibility of delaying the closure of the state’s last operational nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. Newsom’s thinking is related to a Biden administration effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing, “citing the need to continue nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power that helps to combat climate change,”
to NBC News. And to the extent that what happens in Europe may influence politics here, there have been
numerous stories
about how meeting climate change goals and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are leading to politicians pushing a nuclear renaissance over there.

I think emerging technologies, in particular, is an area where public attitudes — likely influenced by dystopian science fiction — may be a particularly poor guide for policymakers. Another Pew poll, this one from last March,
public caution, though also openness, across a range of emerging tech.

“Cautious openness” seems like a public attitude politicians can work with as they consider how to both promote and regulate new tech.

This article originally appeared in the AEIdeas blog and is reprinted with kind permission from the American Enterprise Institute.

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