Some 37 percent of respondents to the poll, conducted by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority in Virginia, said they would rank spending to raise energy efficiency and develop alternative-fuel technology a top priority for future investment. That compares with 30 percent who ranked more cash for medical breakthroughs as most important.
"I think it's a combination of things like high gas prices and the need for alternative fuels, but also things that are emotional like greenhouse effects,
The survey results come as U.S. gasoline prices continue to rocket to new highs, with average retail prices hitting a record $3.29 a gallon on Monday, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Men were more likely to choose fuel efficiency as their highest priority, with 43 percent placing it on top compared with only 30 percent of women, the FCEDA survey showed.
Women were more likely to pick medical technology as a priority, with 33 percent pegging it as a top investment, compared with 26 percent of men.
A next iteration of the survey will break down priorities in fuel and medical breakthroughs, Gordon said.
"When they say alternative fuels and energy, are they talking about energy or things like (the) greenhouse effect--what's really on people's minds?" he said.
The environment placed third in the survey, with 14 percent of respondents tagging it as the most important area for greater investment, while defense spending took 10 percent of the vote.
Britons, however, ranked health care breakthroughs as the top priority (38 percent) over fuel efficiency and alternative fuels (33 percent), according to a parallel study by FCEDA in Great Britain.
The U.S. FCEDA study, which had a 4 percent margin of error and 95 percent confidence level, was based on telephone interviews with 692 adults between March 7 and March 9.