Swing State Voters Blame Oil Companies, Oil Producing Countries and President Obama for High Gas Prices — In that Order
Who do you blame the most for the recent increase in gasoline prices; Oil producing countries, oil companies, President Obama, Americans who drive vehicles that use a lot of gasoline, or normal supply and demand pressures?
In all three states, blame was placed in this order: Oil companies, oil producing countries, President Obama, normal supply and demand pressures and Americans who drive vehicles that use a lot of gasoline.
Given the lack of tools at policymakers’ disposal for quickly reducing gas prices, it makes perfect sense that the political debate over gas prices is largely focused on influencing who voters blame for high prices, rather than competing efforts to actually bring prices down.
Based on the Quinnipiac polling cited above, it looks like Democrats are currently winning this particular messaging battle.
A Hart Research Associates poll commissioned earlier this month attempts to identify the messaging on gas prices that best resonates with Americans. The polling memo identifies four policies that “voters most believe can help a lot with addressing gas prices:”
- American Oil for American Soil. Require oil companies to use the oil that is produced in the United States from public lands and offshore to meet energy needs here at home, and stop oil companies from exporting oil from our public lands and waters to overseas markets. (60 percent)
- End Oil Subsidies. Repeal the four billion dollars per year in federal subsidies that currently are given to the oil companies, and use that money instead to fund investments that will make us less dependent on oil. (55 percent)
- Crack Down On Excessive Speculation. Tighter oversight and regulation of Wall Street speculators to prevent them from artificially driving up the price of gasoline. (54 percent)
- More Fuel Efficient Cars and Trucks. Increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, so they get more miles per gallon and consumers will save on their gasoline costs. (49 percent)
Michael Levi, writing at his Council on Foreign Relations blog, takes issue with the findings. Looking at the four policies individually, he writes that “the only genuinely powerful proposal among the four that the poll flags is the fourth: increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.” Levi then goes on to lament the implications:
This is all deeply dismaying. People say that they want lower gas prices, and of course, I don’t doubt that that’s true. But they don’t seem all that interested in pursuing policies that might deliver them – instead, they seem more interested in gimmicks and distractions. Perhaps Americans don’t really want lower gas prices after all.
A few points on this.
The intent of the Hart Research Associates polling memo, as laid out in the introduction, was to identify messaging that will help progressives “win the gas price message war.” The intent wasn’t to identify policies that will actually help reduce gas prices.
And as Levi points out, “economic fundamentals, along with fear of conflict over Iran, are the big culprits today.” These culprits aren’t things that can be addressed in the short term by either the White House or Congress.
But the fact is, gas prices are a contentious issue when they are high, and that is especially true during election years. Both political parties are perfectly glad to propose “solutions” to the problem that do more to “win the gas price message war” than they do to actually lower gas prices.
For Democrats, this includes items like some of those above. For Republicans, policy ideas seem to be pretty much limited to efforts to increase domestic drilling, which countless studies have shown would do very little to reduce pain at the pump.
On balance, I think the evidence is pretty clear that Democrats’ ideas, which include both supply and demand side measures, are a more serious attempt to actually bring gas prices down. But again, it isn’t as if either party has tools at its disposal that can bring gas prices down significantly in the short term. This country’s high dependency on oil, and the economic, environmental and national security issues that come with it, is a long term problem that requires long term solutions.
According to new Gallup polling released on Friday, views on climate change in the United States have been relatively stable for the past two years. The toplines and trend data can be downloaded here (PDF).
Here’s Gallup’s chart showing the percentage of Americans who understand that recent changes in Earth’s climate have been caused primarily by human activities, compared to the percentage who mistakenly believe the changes have been caused primarily by natural causes:
Here’s the chart showing Americans’ understanding of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change:
Finally, here’s the chart showing a partisan breakdown of the percentage of Americans who believe that news coverage of climate change is exaggerated:
Two things strike me about these findings — both of them good news for those of us who are concerned about this problem.
First, climate change denial seems to have peaked in or around early 2010. This is when the greatest percentage of Americans thought news about climate change was exaggerated, and the lowest percentage attributed climate change to human activities. This timing likely isn’t coincidental, given the massively deceptive “climategate” propaganda campaign that began in November 2009 and continued for several months.
Separately, understanding among climate change appears to be rebounding fastest among independents. Consider the chart above showing the percentage of Americans who think the problem is exaggerated in the news media. Among Republicans, this belief has continued to slowly but steadily climb since 2005, reaching 67% for the past two years. Among Democrats, there was a small spike to 25% in 2010 (coinciding with climategate), but the figure has since returned to 20%. Among independents, there has been a 10% drop since 2010. At 42%, the percentage of independents who incorrectly believe that climate change is exaggerated in the news media is still too high, but the 10% drop is very significant.
Finally, some discouraging news, from separate Gallup polling released on March 21st. While 73% of Republicans acknowledged that the weather has been warmer this winter than in previous winters, just 19% of those who made that acknowledgement attributed the warmer weather to climate change. Republicans were also 11% less likely than Democrats and 7% less likely than independents to admit that we’ve just experienced a particularly warm weather, which provides some insight into the power of climate change denial to skew basic perceptions.
Democracy Corps, the polling group run by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, conducted pre and post State of the Union focus groups with 50 swing voters in Denver, CO. As the table below shows, the President’s approval rating improved on issues across the board after the speech — with a 22% increase on energy policy.
But as the Democracy Corps memo points out, the President’s approval gains on the energy issue didn’t span the partisan spectrum:
This section received the highest sustained ratings of the speech from Democrats and independents, but it was also one of the few polarizing sections as Republicans reacted negatively to the President’s call for more support of clean energy (independents, like Democrats, responded very favorably). Overall, Obama gained 22 points on the issue, one of his biggest gains on the evening, as these voters endorsed his appeal to end subsidies for oil companies and instead focus those resources on expanding clean energy in America.
Unfortunately, Democracy Corps didn’t release cross tabs or any other raw data from the focus groups, so that’s all the specificity we have.
Upon learning that he had placed third in the New Hampshire Republican primary last week with 17% of the vote, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman announced that he had “a ticket to ride” and would be continuing his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Unfortunately for Huntsman, his “ticket to ride” was on a train that was heading for relatively unfriendly territory — and fast. It only took a few days in the South for the former Utah Governor to realize the crazy train that is the GOP primary was going off the rails, giving him no chance to secure his party’s nomination for President in 2012.
Considered a moderate candidate in the GOP field, Huntsman holds a number of positions that are heretical to much of the GOP rank and file. To wit, he accepts mainstream science on climate change, wants to immediately end the war in Afghanistan and supports civil unions for gay couples.
In August, Huntsman caused a stir by admitting that he agreed with the vast majority of climate scientists on the sensitive issue of climate change. “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” he wrote on Twitter. “Call me crazy,” he added, displaying his awareness of the extent to which he’s currently outside his party’s mainstream on the issue. Needless to say, most of his competitors in the primary were all too glad to take him up on his offer to call him crazy.
On the war in Afghanistan, which all of the other GOP candidates have expressed interest in continuing indefinitely, Huntsman again differed from his party. Just hours after announcing his candidacy, he told ABC News that he wanted to “get American troops out faster.” He maintained that position in the months that followed. “I take a different approach on Afghanistan,” he said at a debate in November. “I think it’s time to come home.” He went further, making the case that the United States has better ways to spend its limited resources. “I don’t want to be nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so needs to be built.”
In February 2009, nearly a year before he launched his campaign for the Republican nomination, Governor Huntsman announced his support for civil unions. And despite pushback from conservatives, some of whom consider treating gays and lesbians with respect a deal-breaker, Huntsman held his ground, insisting that our society could do better. When conservative talker Sean Hannity asked Huntsman if his position on the issue was “conservative enough,” the candidate replied, “I am where I am on civil unions. Some will like it. Some won’t.” Rubbing salt in the wound, he added, “We have not done an adequate job in terms of equality and fairness where it comes to reciprocal beneficiary rights.”
On all three of these issues, Huntsman took the side he knew to be morally right but politically unpopular, so it is ironic that Huntsman ended his campaign on the holiday celebrating the life of the great civil rights Martin Luther King Jr., who said the following:
“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
Shunning cowardice, expedience, politics and vanity, Huntsman chose to listen to his conscience on these three issues, alienating himself from the party he sought to represent.
Indeed, on all three issues, publicly available polling showed that Huntsman’s positions earned the support of a majority of Americans, but not a majority of Republicans.
On climate change, extensive polling has shown that a majority of Republicans deny that the problem exists. Last month the Carsey Institute found that just 42% of Republicans trust climate scientists on the issue. Similarly, a recent Pew Research Center Poll found that Tea Party supporters are the demographic group that is least likely to understand mainstream climate science. To the GOP’s credit, there is some evidence that moderate Republicans are beginning to recognize the problem — with 63% telling Pew they see evidence of climate change — but they remain a minority within the party.
On the war in Afghanistan, a poll conducted by CNN in October showed that an all-time low of just 34% of Americans supported the war. Unfortunately for the Huntsman campaign, supporters were overwhelmingly Republicans, 60% of whom still thought the war was a good idea.
Likewise, a Zogby Interactive poll in July found that 70% of Americans, but just 49% of Republicans, support civil unions. Support for the practice among conservative Iowa caucus-goers was much lower.
So what made Huntsman think he had a chance?
In an interview a few weeks ago with Politico’s Jonathan Martin, Huntsman laid out the rationale for his campaign. “I believe in the ideas put forward by Theodore White, the cycles of history,” he told POLITICO. “I believe we are in one such cycle. I think that cycle ultimately takes us to a sane Republican Party based on real ideas.”
He was confusing White’s theory with Arthur Schlesinger’s, but on the big picture, he was right. I have no doubt that the Republican Party will eventually return to a traditionally conservative foreign policy, rationality and respect for science and civil rights. Huntsman’s problem — which is shared by all Americans, due to our dysfunctional two-party system of government — is that his timing was off.
As the consequences of climate change become increasingly apparent, the war in Afghanistan continues to drag on with precious little progress and a new generation of more open-minded Americans reaches voting age, the positions held on these issues by today’s Republican Party will become entirely incompatible with electoral success on the presidential level. As that process unfolds, and as GOP moderates experience a backlash against the Tea Party’s overreach, the party will inevitably moderate itself, drifting back toward the center. Once that happens, and not a moment sooner, the GOP will again be ready to nominate a moderate candidate like Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman undoubtedly knows his ideas are ahead of their time in today’s Republican Party. And perhaps the true purpose of his 2012 run was to set himself up for a moderate run in the future, once his party realizes that accepting science, choosing military engagements judiciously and advancing civil rights are wholly consistent with conservative values.
But ultimately, as Dave Weigel notes, “You work with the party you have, not with the party you may wish you had.” Only time will tell for certain whether Huntsman’s version of conservatism was a futile pipe dream or whether it was just ahead of its time. My sense and sincere hope is that it is the latter, but I think candidate Huntsman may have been off by a few Presidential election cycles in his timing.