The Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy conducted in 2015 the first of its kind national public opinion survey that explores the American public’s awareness, concerns, and attitudes, risk perceptions, and policy preferences about the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus. This survey was designed to gather data about the public’s understanding of the trade-offs and synergies related the connections between water and energy, water and food, and food and energy. Two research projects based on the FEW Nexus Survey were presented at the 2016 national meeting of the American Political Science Association, held September 1–4 in Philadelphia, PA.
The first project, “Cognitive Awareness of the Food-Energy-Water Nexus: Ideological and Policy Perspectives,” presented by ISTPP Director Dr. Portney, co-authored with Bryce Hannibal, Carol Goldsmith, Peyton McGee, Xinsheng Liu, and Arnold Vedlitz, Director, uses the survey results to construct an awareness index of each node of the nexus to ascertain the public’s relative levels of understanding and awareness of each node. The results suggest that there is considerable variation in the extent to which people make the connections between water and energy, water and food, and food and energy. And even though the three awareness indices were separately measured, analysis indicates that people who are aware of any one nexus are highly likely to be aware of the others as well. This suggests that people likely have an underlying nexus cognition construct. The researchers then analyzed the degree of association between these awareness indices and support for public policies that act on the nexus. They find that those who see the connections in the nexus nodes are more likely to support policies designed to achieve greater efficiencies in resource use and resource protection. So promoting an understanding of any of the nexus nodes may increase awareness of the other nexus nodes, and thereby, increase support for policies designed with an understanding of the tradeoffs and synergies inherent in the nexus.
And the second project, “Exploring Citizens’ Support for Policy Tools at the Food, Energy, Water Nexus,” presented by Dr. Ann O’M Bowman and co-authored with Dr. Justin Bullock, focuses on how public policies can be crafted to provide more efficient and equitable allocation of the FEW nexus resources. Using a series of analytic techniques including factor analysis and factor score regressions, the researchers identified the types of policies citizens support and the factors that drive public support for such policies. Having more knowledge about FEW nexus issues increases one’s support for policies to manage food, energy, and water resources. Broad concern for the environment also increases favorability for these policies. Not surprisingly, public support varies by political ideology, political party identification, and education. These results contribute to an understanding of the public’s willingness to embrace the various roles government can play in addressing FEW nexus issues. The researchers contend that policymakers and scientists can garner more support for these policies by more effectively communicating relevant technical facts of the FEW nexus and by highlighting the far-reaching impact these issues have on the environment.