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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Offshore Drilling, Oil Speculation & More MPG: What the Polls Say

The GOP is betting heavy that Dems’ opposition to drilling for oil in environmentally-sensitive areas is a big winner for Republicans. Chicago Tribune reporter Amanda Erickson quotes Sierra Club spokesman Josh Donner in her article today on Obama’s meeting on energy reform strategy with House of Reps members,

There’s a stalemate with Republicans…They are determined to filibuster anything [that does not involve drilling] … because Republicans think this is the issue they’re going to take to the bank.

As part of the GOP strategy, MN Republican Rep.Michelle Bachmann’s Wall St. Journal op-ed article, “The Democrats’ Energy Charade” vents her disdain for the Democratic-sponsored Drill Responsibly in leased Lands (DRILL) Act, which would increase the allowable leases in the National Petroleum Reserve, with some modest environmental precautions. But DRILL would not allow new exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), which is closer to existing pipeline structure. Nor would it permit additional offshore drilling for oil, which is a cornerstone of McCain’s energy ‘plan,’ along with nuclear power development and a suspension of the federal gas tax. And so it is anathema to Republicans.
In contrast to McCain’s plan, Sen. Obama opposes offshore drilling for oil, supports resolution of safety and storage issues before more nuclear power is expanded and he calls McCain’s ‘gas tax holiday’ a gimmick. Obama would require that oil companies drill in areas they have already leased, pay consumers a rebate and invest $150 billion in renewable energy
Democrats are having a tough time getting enough votes to move legislation like DRILL forward, due to the threat of a fillibuster and some ‘blue dog’ and ‘oil patch ‘ Dems who want drilling regulations eased. Recent opinion polls indicate that Dems do indeed have a very tough sell in their opposition to unrestricted drilling for oil. A June 26 Zogby poll showed 74 percent in support of offshore drilling. Even 58 percent of Dems in the poll favored offshore drilling. And in a recent CNN poll, 73 percent wanted it.
However, a Rasmussen poll taken on Monday night may have identified the weak link in the Republican position. The survey found that when respondents are given the choice between “cracking down on speculators or lifting the ban on offshore drilling,” 45 percent favor the former, while 42 percent favor the latter. The survey concludes that,

At this moment in time, there is support for offshore drilling, regulating speculators, more nuclear power, research for alternative energy sources, and drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Rasmussen poll wrap-up also noted that their poll taken last week found,

…52% support building new nuclear plants, but 31% are opposed. This is a slight increase in support. Backing for Obama’s proposal to spend $150 billion on green energy resources dropped slightly to 54%…Forty-four percent (44%) say reducing the price of gas and oil is more important than protecting the environment, but 41% disagree. These numbers track closely with previous findings on this question.

Energy reform is clearly a tricky proposition for both parties. When congress adjourns for the August recess in a few days, there is a strong probability that nothing will have been passed. Then the battle is about spinning the blame for inaction, in which case the Rasmussen report notes,

In the latest survey, 46% oppose the present GOP congressional strategy of blocking other energy legislation until a vote on the offshore ban is allowed, but 28% support it. Even more Republicans (44%) are against their congressional leaders’ strategy than for it (38%)

It would be hard to make a persuasive case that alternative energy development could be a practicable substitute for drilling for more oil in the short term. Opinion polls indicate strong support for developing wind power as a longer-term reform, for example. But mid-west wind farms and the like still seem like a distant dream to many voters. ‘Sure, it sounds great, but we need oil now.’ Never mind that whatever oil we find won’t be in the pipeline for years. Most voters apparently believe also that adequate precautions could be taken to have new offshore drilling that doesn’t damage the environment.
Dems can help their case by fighting harder for limiting oil market speculation, as well as for developing alternative energy. And, Dems have under-used leverage to wield in holding Republicans more accountable for their obstruction of better fuel efficiency standards. Although, there hasn’t been much polling about it recently, a CBS News/New York Times poll taken back in April of last year found that 92 percent of Americans supported “requiring car manufacturers to produce cars that are more energy efficient” — about as close to unanimous as you find in opinion polls.

One comment on “Offshore Drilling, Oil Speculation & More MPG: What the Polls Say

  1. David in Nashville on

    The problem is, as economists across the political spectrum have been pointing out, speculation isn’t the problem. Going after speculators is every bit as demagogic as going after environmentalists is on the other side; as policy, it will do little good, and could screw up the ability of markets to operate. And part of the long-run answer to the problem is using the market’s price signaling to get energy users to change their usage. There are no short-term political fixes to this problem, though there are plenty of long-term ones. From a policy standpoint, that’s where the debates should come. I know–lotsa luck.


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