Skip to main content Accessibility help

Public attitudes toward biofuels: Effects of knowledge, political partisanship, and media use

  • Micheal A. Cacciatore (a1), Dietram A. Scheufele (a2), Andrew R. Binder (a3) and Bret R. Shaw (a4)


Despite large-scale investments and government mandates to expand biofuels development and infrastructure in the United States, little is known about how the public conceives of this alternative fuel technology. This study examines public opinion of biofuels by focusing on citizen knowledge and the motivated processing of media information. Specifically, we explore the direct effects of biofuels knowledge and the moderating effect of partisanship on the relationship between media use and benefit vs. risk perceptions in the following four domains: environmental impacts, economic consequences, ethical/social implications, and political ramifications. Our results suggest that more knowledgeable respondents see fewer benefits of biofuels relative to risks, and that Democrats and Republicans are affected differently by media use when forming opinions about biofuels. Among Democrats, greater attention to political media content leads to a more favorable outlook toward the technology across several domains of interest, while among Republicans, an increase in attention to political content has the opposite effect. Possible reasons for these results, as well as implications of the findings at the intersection of politics and the life sciences, are discussed.



Hide All
1. United States Department of Energy, Secretaries Chu and Vilsack Announce More than $600 Million Investment in Advanced Biorefinery Projects, United States Department of Energy, 2009,
2. Wegener, Duane T. and Kelly, Janice R., “Social psychological dimensions of bioenergy development and public acceptance,” BioEnergy Research 2008, 1(2): 107117.
3. Ferber, Dan, “Risks and benefits: GM crops in the cross hairs,” Science 1999, 286(5445): 16621666.
4. Gaskell, George, Allum, Nick, Wagner, Wolfgang, Kronberger, Nicole, Torgersen, Helge, Hampel, Juergen, and Bardes, Julie, “GM foods and the misperception of risk perceptionx,” Risk Analysis 2004, 24(1): 185194.
5. Gaskell, George, Bauer, Martin W., Durant, John and Allum, Nick, “Worlds apart? The reception of genetically modified foods in Europe and the US,” Science 1999, 285(5426): 384387.
6. Sjoberg, Lennart, “Principles of risk perception applied to gene technology,” Embo Reports 2004, 5: S47S51.
7. Wohlers, Anton E., “Regulating genetically modified food: Policy trajectories, political culture, and risk perceptions in the U.S., Canada, and EU,” Politics and the Life Sciences 2010, 29(2): 1739.
8. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, Biomass Research and Development, Office of the Law Revision Counsel, 2010,
9. US Energy Information Administration, Biofuels in the US Transportation Sector, US Energy Information Administration, 2009,
10. Krauss, Clifford, “Taking flight on jatropha fuel,” New York Times online, December 9, 2008,
11. Biello, David, “Navy green: Military investigates biofuels to power its ships and planes,” Scientific American September 2009,
12. Mathews, John A., “Opinion: is growing biofuel crops a crime against humanity?” Biofuels Bioproducts & Biorefining 2008, 2(2): 9799.
13. Melander, Ingrid, “U.S., EU must cut back on biofuels: U.N. advisor,” Reuters, 2008,, accessed May 5, 2008.
14. Searchinger, Timothy, Heimlich, Ralph, Houghton, R. A., Dong, Fengxia, Elobeid, Amani, Fabiosa, Jacinto, Tokgoz, Simla, Hayes, Dermot, and Tun-Hsiang, , “Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change,” Science 2008, 319(5867): 12381240.
15. Delshad, Ashlie B., Raymond, Leigh, Sawicki, Vanessa, and Wegener, Duane T., “Public attitudes toward political and technological options for biofuels,” Energy Policy 2010, 38(7): 34143425.
16. Savvanidou, Electra, Zervas, Efthimios and Tsagarakis, Konstantinos P. “Public acceptance of biofuels,” Energy Policy, 2010, 38(7): 34823488.
17. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Survey shows high interest in biofuels, University of Wisconsin-Madison, April 2009,
18. Adelle, Camilla and Withana, Sirini, “EU and US public perceptions of environmental, climate change and energy issues,” Institue for European Environmental Policy, 2008,
19. Segon, Velimir, Stoer, Deborah, Domac, Julije and Kerning Yang, K, “Raising the awareness of bioenergy benefits: Results of two public surveys on attitudes, perceptions and knowledge,” Energy Institute Hrvoje Pozar, 2004,
20. UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, “Renewable energy awareness and attitudes research,” UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2009,
21. Miller, Jon D., “Public understanding of, and attitudes toward, scientific research: what we know and what we need to know,” Public Understanding of Science 2004, 13(3): 273294.
22. Miller, Jon D., Scott, Eugenie C., and Okamoto, Shinji, “Public acceptance of evolution,” Science 2006, 313(5788): 765766.
23. Miller, Jon D. and Kimmel, Linda G., Biomedical Communications: Purposes, Audiences, and Strategies (New York: Academic Press, 2001).
24. Miller, Jon D., Pardo, Rafael, and Niwa, Fujip, Public Perceptions of Science and Technology: A Comparative Study of the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada (Chicago: Chicago Academy of Science, 1997).
25. Cacciatore, Michael A., Scheufele, Dietram A., and Corley, Elizabeth A., “From enabling technology to applications: The evolution of risk perceptions about nanotechnology,” Public Understanding of Science 2011, 20(3): 385404.
26. Nisbet, Matthew C., Scheufele, Dietram A., Shanahan, James, Moy, Patricia, Brossard, Dominique, and Lewenstein, Bruce V., “Knowledge, reservations, or promise? A media effects model for public perceptions of science and technology,” Communication Research 2002, 29(5): 584608.
27. Remarks, Prepared, Thornley, Patricia, and Prins, Wolter, Public perceptions and bioenergy: Some remarks in preparation of the workshop scheduled for the Thermalnet meeting in Vicenza, October 1008,
28. Lee, Chul-Joo, Scheufele, Dietram A., and Lewenstein, Bruce V., “Public attitudes toward emerging technologies: Examining the interactive effects of cognitions and affect on public attitudes toward nanotechnology,” Science Communication 2005, 27(2): 240267.
29. Priest, Susanna Hornig, Bonfadelli, Heinz, and Rusanen, Maria, “The ‘trust gap’ hypothesis: Predicting support for biotechnology across national cultures as a function of trust in actors,” Risk Analysis 2003, 23(4): 751766.
30. Roberts, Mary Roduta, Reid, Grace, Schroeder, Meadow, and Norris, Stephen P., “Causal or spurious? The relationship of knowledge and attitudes to trust in science and technology,” Public Understanding of Science, forthcoming, doi:10.1177/0963662511420511.
31. Brossard, Dominique, Scheufele, Dietram A., Kim, Eunkyung, and Lewenstein, Bruce V., “Religiosity as a perceptual filter: examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology,” Public Understanding of Science 2009, 18(5):546558.
32. Ho, Shirley S., Brossard, Dominique, and Scheufele, Dietram A., “Effects of value predispositions, mass media use, and knowledge on public attitudes toward embryonic stem cell research,” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 2008, 20(2): 171192.
33. Fiske, Susan T. and Taylor, Shelley E., Social Cognition, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991).
34. Scheufele, Dietram A., Messages and heuristics: How audiences form attitudes about emerging technologies (London: The Wellcome Trust, 2006).
35. Scheufele, Dietram A. and Lewenstein, Bruce V., “The public and nanotechnology: How citizens make sense of emerging technologies,” Journal of Nanoparticle Research 2005, 7(6): 659667.
36. Nisbet, Matthew C., “The competition for worldviews: Values, information, and public support for stem cell research,” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 2005, 17(1): 90112.
37. Besley, John C. and Shanahan, James, “Media attention and exposure in relation to support for agricultural biotechnology,” Science Communication 2005 26(4): 347367.
38. Brossard, Dominique and Nisbet, Matthew C., “Deference to scientific authority among a low information public: Understanding US Opinion on agricultural biotechnology,” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 2007, 19(1): 2452.
39. Jenkins-Smith, Hank C., Silva, Carol L., Nowlin, Matthew C., and deLozier, Grant, “Reversing nuclear opposition: Evolving public acceptance of a permanent nuclear waste disposal facility,” Risk Analysis 2011, 31(4): 629644.
40. Zaller, John R., The nature and origin of mass opinion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
41. Becker, Nathan, “Senator plans bill to increase flex-fuel fleet,” Marketwatch June 17, 2008,
42. Content, Thomas, “State announces aid for biofuels projects,” JSOnline August 25, 2010,
43. Nilles, Dave, “Doyle announces ethanol and biodiesel funding proposal”, Biodiesel Magazine, January 10, 2007,
44. Rudolf, John Collins, “Gingrich's Energy Policies Rile Conservative Critics,” New York Times online, February 14, 2011,
45. Tankersley, Jim, “Obama urges greater use of biofuels,” Los Angeles Times Online, February 3, 2010,
46. Kunda, Ziva, “The case for motivated reasoning,” Psychological Bulletin 1990, 108(3): 480498.
47. Taber, Charles S., Cann, Damon M. and Kucsova, Simona, “The motivated processing of political arguments,” Political Behavior 2009, 31: 137155.
48. Taber, Charles S. and Lodge, Milton, “Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs,” American Journal of Political Science 2006, 50(3): 755769.
49. Festinger, Leon, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).
50. Eagly, Alice H. and Chaiken, Shelly, The Psychology of Attitudes (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1993).
51. Whittaker, James O., “Cognitive dissonance and the effectieness of persuasive communications,” Public Opinion Quarterly 1964, 28(4): 547555.
52. Rudolph, Thomas J., “Triangulating political responsibility: The motivated formation of responsibility judgments,” Political Psychology 2006, 27(1): 99122.
53. Strickland, April A., Taber, Charles S., and Lodge, Milton, “Motivated reasoning and public opinion,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 2011, 36(6): 935944.
54. Kahan, Dan M., Braman, Donald, Slovic, Paul, Gastil, John, and Cohen, Geoffrey, “Cultural cognition of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology,” Nature Nanotechnology 2009, 4(2): 8790.
55. Kahan, Dan M., Jenkins-Smith, Hank, and Braman, Donald, “Cultural cognition of scientific consensus,” Journal of Risk Research 2011, 14(2): 147174.
56. Crawford, Jarret T., “The ideologically objectionable premise model: Predicting biased political judgments on the left and right,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2012, 48: 138151.
57. Kim, Sung-youn, Taber, Charles S., and Lodge, Milton, “A computational model of the citizen as motivated reasoner: Modeling the dynamics of the 2000 presidential election,” Political Behavior 2010, 32:128.
58. Kopko, Kyle C., Bryner, Sarah M., Budziak, Jeffrey, Devine, Christopher J. and Nawara, Steven P., “In the eye of the beholder? Motivated reasoning in disputed elections,” Political Behavior 2011, 33: 271290.
59. Meffert, Michael F., Chung, Sungeon, Joiner, Amber J., Waks, Leah, and Garst, Jennifer, “The effects of negativity and motivated information processing during a political campaign,” Journal of Communication 2006, 56(1): 2751.
60. Friedman, Sharon M., Dunwoody, Sharon S., and Rogers, Carol L., Scientists and Journalists: Reporting Science as News (New York: Free Press, 1986).
61. Gregory, Jane and Miller, Steve, Science in Public: Communication, Culture, and Credibility (New York: Plenum, 1998).
62. National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators (Chapter 7), National Science Board, January 2010,
63. Nelkin, Dorothy, Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1995).
64. Binder, Andrew R., Scheufele, Dietram A., Brossard, Dominique, and Gunther, Albert C., “Interpersonal amplification of risk? Citizen discussions and their impact on perceptions of risks and benefits of a biological research facility,” Risk Analysis 2011, 31(2): 324334.
65. Frewer, Lynn J., Miles, Susan, and Marsh, Roy, “The media and genetically modified foods: Evidence in support of social amplification of risk,” Risk Analysis 2002, 22(4): 701711.
66. Kasperson, Roger E., Renn, Ortwin, Slovic, Paul, Brown, Halina S., Emel, Jacque, Goble, Robert, Kasperson, Jeanne X., and Ratick, Samuel, “The social amplification of risk: A conceptual framework,” Risk Analysis 1988, 8(2): 177187.
67. Lewis, Roxanne E. and Tyshenko, Michael G., “The impact of social amplification and attenuation of risk and the public reaction to Mad Cow Disease in Canada,” Risk Analysis 2009, 29(5): 714728.
68. Nisbet, Matthew C. and Lewenstein, Bruce V., “Biotechnology and the American media: The policy process and the elite press, 1970 to 1999,” Science Communication 2002, 23(4): 359391.
69. Iyengar, Shanto and Hahn Kyu, S., “Red media, blue media: Evidence of ideological selectivity in media use,” Journal of Communication 2009, 59(1): 1939.
70. Sheppard, Noel, “Glenn Beck exposes ethanol's connection to rising food prices,” Newsbusters, April 24, 2008,
71. Becker, Amy B. and Scheufele, Dietram A., “Moral politicking: Public attitudes toward gay marriage in an election context,” International Journal of Press-Politics 2009, 14(2): 186211.
72. American Association for Public Opinion Research, Standard definitions: Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys (Lenexa, KS: American Association for Public Opinion Research, 2008).
73. Graham, Johm D. and Weiner, Baert, Risk vs. Risk: Tradeoffs in Protecting Health and the Environment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).
74. Pamela, R. Williams, D., Cushing, Colleen A., and Sheehan, Patrick J., “Data available for evaluating the risks and benefits of MTBE and ethanol as alternative fuel oxygenates,” Risk Analysis 2003, 23(5): 10851115.
75. Bringezu, Stefan, Schütz, Helmut, O'Brien, Meghan, Kauppi, Lea, Howarth, Robert W., and McNeely, Jeff, “Toward sustainable production and use of resources: Assessing biofuels,” United Nations Environment Programme 2009,
76. Binder, Andrew R., Cacciatore, Michael A., Scheufele, Dietram A., Shaw, Bret R., and Corley, Elizabeth A., “Measuring risk/benefit perceptions of emerging technologies and their potential impact on communication of public opinion toward science,” Public Understanding of Science, 21(7), 830847.
77. Cohen, Jacob, Cohen, Patricia, West, Stephen G., and Aiken, Leona S., Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, 3rd ed. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003).
78. Lane, Jim, “US Government to invest $510M in advanced, drop-in biofuels,” Biofuels Digest August 16, 2011,
79. McAuliff, Michael, “Algae biofuel proposal, now mocked by Republicans, used to have their support,” Huffington Post February 28, 2012,
80. Brody, Charles J., “Differences by sex in support for nuclear power,” Social Forces 1984, 63: 209228.
81. Flynn, James, Slovic, Paul, and Mertz, C. K., “Gender, race, and perception of environmental health risks,” Risk Analysis 1994, 14(6): 11011109.
82. Gustafson, Per E., “Gender differences in risk perception: Theoretical and methodological perspectives,” Risk Analysis 1998, 18(6): 805811.
83. Harris, Christine R., Jenkins, Michael and Glaser, Dale, “Gender differences in risk assessment: Why do women take fewer risks than men?” Judgment and Decision Making Journal 2006, 1(1): 4863.
84. O'Connor, Robert E., Bord, Richard J., and Fisher, Ann, “Risk perceptions, general environmental beliefs, and willingness to address climate change,” Risk Analysis 1999, 19(3): 461471.
85. Stedman, Richard C., “Risk and climate change: Perceptions of key policy actors in Canada,” Risk Analysis 2004, 24(5): 13951406.
86. Anderson, Ashley A, Brossard, Dominique, and Scheufele, Dietram A., “The changing information environment for nanotechnology: Online audiences and content,” Journal of Nanoparticle Research 2010, 12(4): 10831094.
87. Nisbet, Matthew C., Maibach, Edward and Leiserowitz, Anthony, “Framing peak petroleum as a public health problem: Audience research and participatory engagement,” American Journal of Public Health 2011, 101(9): 16201626.


Public attitudes toward biofuels: Effects of knowledge, political partisanship, and media use

  • Micheal A. Cacciatore (a1), Dietram A. Scheufele (a2), Andrew R. Binder (a3) and Bret R. Shaw (a4)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed