Policymakers inside the Biden administration have repeatedly assured Americans that electric vehicles (EVs) are an unavoidable and essential part of the “net-zero” carbon emissions world that they’re trying to regulate into existence. But despite hefty subsidies and future bans of gasoline-powered cars, Americans aren’t ready to jump on the EV bandwagon, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.
For our most recent online public opinion poll of 1,412 drivers, taken from May 3-5, we asked a straightforward question of consumer intent: “How likely will you consider buying/leasing an electric vehicle for your next car?”
Among those responding, 53% said they were “not likely” to consider an electric car, while 39% said they were “likely” to. The poll has a margin of error of +/-2.6 percentage points.
But, to spout an inevitable cliche, the devil once again lurks in the details. Just 16% of those answering the poll said they’re “very likely” to consider an EV, versus 23% who said they were “somewhat likely.”
On the other side, more than a third — 36% — said they were “not at all likely” to consider an EV. Another 17% said they’re “not very likely” to do so.
But the breakdown of prospective buyers and non-buyers of EVs shows some interesting patterns.
Those who are young are far more inclined to embrace the EV concept, with 51% of those 18-24 and 58% among those in the 25-44 year range saying they are “likely” to consider buying an EV. For the 45-64 and 65-plus age groups, the comparable “likely” answers are 30% and just 15%, respectively.
And if enthusiasm for EVs has a political face, it’s definitely a donkey. Among Democrats, 56% say they’re likely to buy an EV, compared to 20% of Republicans and 32% of independents.
Race is yet another interesting difference, and it’s major. Just 32% of white Americans say they’re likely to buy an EV, compared to 56% of blacks and Hispanics. Another demographic gap in EV enthusiasm: Gender. Only 30% of women said they’re likely to get an EV, vs. 48% of men.
We asked another question about EVs, this time factoring in fuel costs: “How likely are you to consider buying/leasing an electric vehicle for your next car if electricity to run the car costs more than gasoline or fuel for a hybrid?”
The answers show significant sensitivity to costs. When the cost of electricity exceeds the cost of gasoline, the “likely” to buy an EV answer shrank to 32% from 39%, while the “unlikely” answer grew from 53% to 61%.
We asked this question because some market estimates take for granted that current relative gasoline and electricity costs will prevail in the future. That seems highly unlikely, given that even current modest estimates say that electric output will have to be expanded by anywhere from 20% to 50% to power an all-EV car fleet.
Ever since early 2008, when President Barack Obama announced that “under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” the price per kilowatt-hour in U.S. cities has increased by over 40%, despite essentially no growth in total energy use.
That’s about to change, due largely to “net-zero” and other changes in our energy economy. Even without an all-EV car fleet, current estimates see growth of about 29% in electricity use from 2021 to 2050.
With utilities responding to strict new federal rules by closing lower-cost coal- and gas-fired power plants and mothballing nuclear facilities in favor of far pricier alternatives such as wind and solar, the price of electricity for electrical vehicles has nowhere to go but up.
In short, if nothing changes, the so-called EV revolution could be short-lived, barring an endless flood of government subsidies to keep it going.
Finally, we asked whether current plans by several states “to ban gasoline-powered car sales in 12 years” was a “good idea,” a “bad idea,” or “not sure.”
By nearly 2-1, 54% to 28%, Americans thought it was a bad idea. And another 18% said they’re “not sure.”
Republicans (13% “good idea,” 76% “bad idea”) and independents (19% good and 62% bad) really disliked the bans. But even Democrats achieved only a plurality, not a majority, with 43% saying it was a good idea, 36% saying it was a bad idea and 21% not sure.
The point is, those who wish to push Americans toward a new energy future might have to ease up a little, or face eventual blowback from voters. It’s a simple fact: We don’t currently produce enough energy for a massive switch to electrical vehicles, as now envisioned.
Current plans by the Biden administration to crack down on utilities after years of demonizing fossil fuels have left the U.S. with little spare capacity. Indeed, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an industry-wide group, already warns of an “elevated risk” of blackouts this summer. Other groups are also sounding alarms.
“Demand for cooling and the performance of wind and solar resources will be key factors in the grid’s performance,” the group said. “The situation has been exacerbated by demand growth and the retirement of coal and nuclear power plants.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency “has proposed emissions rules that would effectively require automakers to sell mostly EVs,” warns a recent piece in City Journal, even though “no one really knows how much widespread adoption of EVs could reduce emissions, or whether they might even increase them.”
Indeed, some estimates say EVs in many instances will produce more CO2 than conventional cars.
Americans, it seems, aren’t keen on owning EVs. At least not yet. As MoneyWise, a personal financial website, observed: “Americans aren’t lining up to buy EVs — despite the new $7,500 Inflation Reduction Act tax credit.”
Even in Britain, which is moving along the same track as the Biden administration, there are recent warnings of slack demand for EVs.
Few people, it seems, think the added expense and trouble of purchasing special charging equipment, having lengthy charging sessions of 10 hours or more and not being able to drive into a gas station and say “fill ‘er up” is worth the trouble of an EV.
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique, and informative data each month on topics of public interest. TIPP’s reputation for polling excellence comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.