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Collaborative statewide poll says views of West Virginia’s energy economy could be shifting

CHARLESTON — The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce joined together to undertake a statewide survey among registered voters in the Mountain State conducted by Research America to investigate public sentiment around the state’s future and changing energy-economy.

“The data shows that West Virginia values an energy transformation,” said Thomas Minney, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “We were fascinated to see that while voters overwhelmingly treasure our energy heritage, they also recognize that the nation is shifting its energy economy and feel that West Virginia should focus on becoming a leader in the next generation of clean and renewable energy production.”

Personal economic security issues dominated the responses in the survey. When asked to identify the most important initiative that elected officials could do to help their community, the majority of voters in coal country would like to see more jobs created (70%). Half of the voters surveyed in coal country (49%) reported being willing to move to another area of West Virginia if there are good-paying jobs and better opportunities in new industries.

Additionally, “support the coal industry” (14%) and “invest in clean energy; phase out coal” (12%) were mentioned in nearly equal frequency. This question was unaided and open-ended, meaning that respondent comments were not prompted by any mention of programs or themes.

The poll also looked beyond the energy question to see what West Virginian voters felt the future should hold. In looking at potential elements of a broad infrastructure improvement plan, across the state, people saw the most benefit in high-speed broadband and securing electricity grids.

“This was truly a fascinating project between The Nature Conservancy of West Virginia and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce,” said Brian Dayton, Vice President of Policy for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to know how West Virginians saw the future of the state’s economy through issues around energy and infrastructure.”

More than half (53%) of voters in coal country said things in West Virginia are currently headed in the wrong direction and only 27% feel that it will get better in the future. While optimism about the current state-of-affairs and the future of West Virginia is lacking, there is a willingness and desire for change.

“This was an opportunity to see how West Virginia voters really felt about a very important issues facing the state,” said Rex Repass, President of Research America. “Respondents identify benefits associated with the shift to cleaner energy including new jobs, economic growth and a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.”

The survey was conducted among 400 registered voters across West Virginia with demographic representation matching the state. An oversample of 100 voters within coal country – the heavy coal producing counties across the state – was completed in addition to the main statewide sample. Voters were contacted by landline telephone, cell phone and online between June 21 and July 2, 2021. The survey’s confidence Interval is at 95% with a margin of error of ± 5 percentage points.

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