As gas prices rise, public seeks alternatives to oil
by John Russonello, Wed May 25, 2011 at 10:30:21 AM EDT
(Cross-posted from Think it Through.)
Guest post by Emma White.
With gas topping $4 a gallon in many places, the prevailing wisdom in DC suggests that calling for more domestic oil drilling is a political winner for politicians, and those who oppose new drilling will pay a political price. President Obama embraced this perspective last week, offering his own plan to expand offshore oil drilling in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic seaboard.
It is certainly true that many Americans are open to increasing offshore drilling in the U.S. The Pew Research Center found in March, when gas prices had already risen sharply, that 57% favor allowing increased oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters.
But opposition to new drilling need not be a political loser. Our polling for NRDC in April of this year shows that when offered a choice between two candidates on their energy policy, the candidate who says drilling will cut gas prices loses out to a candidate who blames the oil companies for high gas prices and lays out alternatives to oil:
- A majority (58%) chooses the candidate who says “we need to think beyond oil because the oil companies will continue to charge us whatever they can get away with and we should focus on investing in fuel-efficient cars and clean, affordable, renewable energy that won’t run out.”
- Only 41% choose the candidate who says “we need to allow more drilling for oil in the U.S. to protect ordinary people from increasing gas prices, which take money out of our wallets and make everything more expensive.”
- Partisan breakdowns and intensity of feeling also favor the clean energy candidate, who wins 72% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and peels off four in ten Republicans (39%). Those who feel strongly in favor of the clean energy candidate (44%) outnumber those who feel strongly the other way (29%) by fifteen percentage points.
Yes, Americans want gas prices to be lower, and if politicians promise that drilling will lower prices they are willing to give it a try. But our research over the years on energy issues has shown us that Americans want much more than cheaper gas:
- They want freedom from the oil companies that they believe raise prices on a whim;
- They want to produce energy here at home so America will be a self-sufficient place that “makes things again;”
- They want to use the resources we have more efficiently because it will save them money and help the planet; and
- They want cleaner air and sources of energy that won’t run out, like the wind and the sun.
If politicians want to stand firm for these principles, the public will reward them for countering calls to drill with a cleaner energy future that will free Americans from the oil companies.
Emma White is a senior research analyst with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC.