Thursday, June 2, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Across the political spectrum, Nevada voters generally support renewable energy, taxing mining companies and preserving public lands while taking a collaborative approach with the federal government on land-use issues, according to a poll released on Wednesday.
The survey, prepared for the Center for Western Priorities, a nonpartisan conservation organization, asked 700 likely voters in the November election their opinions on an array of issues that affect land rights, the environment, energy policy and economic development.
The issues have drawn significant attention amid the February arrest of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in connection with a 2014 armed standoff over grazing rights and a regulatory decision in December that prompted several solar companies to cease sales in the state. With the election looming, such actions have placed issues involving public land and renewables in the spotlight.
The poll’s respondents were relatively split between Republicans and Democrats, with a slight lean toward Democrats. The poll, conducted by Purple Strategies in May, has a 3.7 percent margin of error.
Here are some highlights from the poll:
Land rights and Bundy
The issue of public lands has long divided Nevadans, traditionally along political lines. Typically, Democrats tend to favor keeping Nevada’s public lands in the hands of the federal government, while Republicans support transferring oversight of them over to state agencies.
To that end, the poll asked respondents whether they would prefer a Democratic candidate who “believes recreation and renewable energy should be priorities on our public lands” or a Republican candidate who supports selling public lands to close the budget deficit and “(prioritizes) the development of public lands to help grow our economy.” Fifty-five percent of respondents chose the Democrat, while 29 percent favored the Republican.
The poll also delved into attitudes toward Bundy and his supporters in light of the 2014 standoff, summarizing the positions of Bundy’s supporters and opponents and then asking respondents for their take. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they disagreed with Bundy while 33 percent agreed with him. Still, more than half of Republican voters tended to agree with Bundy, while independent voters and Democrats tended to disagree.
About three-fourths of respondents said Nevada should prioritize collaboration with the federal government over public lands issues rather than engage in all-out conflict.
Land use for recreation
Meanwhile, less than half of respondents had a favorable impression of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the vast majority of federal lands in Nevada and was the main agency on the other end of the Bundy standoff.
However, 84 percent of them expressed positive views of the National Park Service, which has purview over Lake Mead, Great Basin National Park and Tule Springs Fossil Beds.
The Grand Canyon National Park, Lake Tahoe, and Red Rock Canyon were the three most important public land sites in the state, according to respondents. Tule Springs, the newest national park, came in last with only 28 percent of respondents saying it was very important to the state’s economy and cultural heritage.
The poll also showed support among both Democrats and Republicans for designating Gold Butte as a national monument, though there was stronger support among Democrats — 78 percent of them supported the designation compared to 59 percent of Republicans.
Some of the top priorities for public land use included preserving access to the lands for outdoor recreation, expanding the state’s outdoor tourism economy, and protecting wildlife.
Solar and renewables
The poll found that Nevada voters appear to support renewable development.
A majority of respondents — 66 percent — had a favorable view of solar energy companies. After the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada approved rates that increased bills for rooftop solar customers, national companies like SolarCity and Sunrun halted their operations here. In the wake of the decision in December, those companies have worked to undo the rates with a vocal public campaign, lawsuits and a proposed ballot measure.
The poll found that Nevada voters have a poor opinion of the utilities commission that crafted those rates. Only 35 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the commission. Oil companies and coal companies also had favorable ratings hovering just below 40 percent.
Western states should prioritize solar over the next decade, a majority of respondents said. Only 21 percent said natural gas, which comprises most of Nevada's energy supply, should be a priority. When asked how public land could best be used to spur the state’s economy, a plurality of respondents — 43 percent — chose increasing renewable development projects.
Regardless of their politics, respondents said they would support pro-renewable candidates.
A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who favored investment in renewables and supported policies that would effectively restart the rooftop solar industry.
Oil and mining
About half of respondents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who favored increased oil drilling and mining on public lands — provided proper environmental protections were in place — while a quarter said they would be less likely. A majority of respondents also favored mining companies having to pay extra fees and taxes for extracting minerals on public lands.
Questions on mining on public lands and mining taxes typically enjoyed more support from Republican respondents than Democratic ones.
Nevadans still, by and large, don’t want nuclear waste stored at Yucca Mountain. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported storing waste at Yucca.
On the other hand, 19 percent said storing waste at Yucca would make no difference in their vote. Democrats expressed more support for blocking waste storage at Yucca than Republicans did, though Republicans still tended to favor blocking storage over allowing it.